US Vice President Mike Pence sought to reassure Europe on Monday of the new US administration's commitment to transatlantic ties as he met with EU chiefs in Brussels at the tail end of a European tour.
US President Donald J. Trump rattled European allies shortly before taking office by calling NATO "obsolete" and praising Britain's decision to leave the EU. But since then, US officials have tried to mitigate European fears by playing down those comments.
"Today it is my privilege on behalf of President Trump to express the strong commitment of the United States to continued cooperation and partnership with the European Union," Pence said, speaking after talks with European Council president Donald Tusk.
“Whatever our differences, our two continents share the same heritage, the same values and, above all, the same purpose to promote peace and prosperity through freedom, democracy and the rule of law. And to those objectives we will remain committed,” Pence continued.
Pence said US commitment to transatlantic ties remained "steadfast and enduring" after decades of working together on security and economic issues.
Tusk thanked Pence for the meeting, saying that "we all truly needed it" and that Europe counted on "unequivocal" US support.
"Too much has happened over the past month in your country and in the EU ... for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be," the former Polish premier added.
Scores of protesters gathered outside EU headquarters to criticise the Trump administration's attitude towards women, gays and climate change.
"We are here to protest against the visit of Pence because we are revolted by the decision of the US administration to undermine women's rights worldwide," Irene Donadio, who works for the International Planned Parenthood Federation, told AFP.
Two female protesters went topless and carried banners saying, "Pence, get out of our pants," while another placard read: "Love Trumps Hate."
Trump's criticism of NATO as outdated, his praise for Brexit and his prediction that other EU members would follow suit – plus his apparent fondness for Russian President Vladimir Putin – have all unnerved US allies.
Pence's visit comes two days after Trump told a rally in Florida to "look at what's happening in Brussels" as he listed a series of European cities struck by deadly terror attacks.
Pence also met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. He is later scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Pence's Belgian hosts had earlier called on him to oppose any break-up of the EU.
"No question of allowing the European Union's break-up. That message was given," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told Belga news agency after a dinner with Pence on Sunday.
"I feel that it was heard," he said.
The Brussels trip follows Pence's attendance at the Munich Security Conference, where he pledged the Trump administration's "unwavering" commitment to the transatlantic alliance.
"President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union," he said.
But European allies remain wary despite statements from Pence, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that stuck close to established US policy during their first foray into Europe.
Pence said Washington would push Russia to honour the Minsk ceasefire in Ukraine, while Tillerson said the US would only cooperate with Moscow if it benefits the American people.
But French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he was "struck" that Pence did not specifically discuss the European Union, after Trump appeared to voice hope that other EU states would follow in the footsteps of Britain's exit.
Mogherini called Pence's visit "a very important political sign", although she also suggested that EU-US relations might become more pragmatic and may not be taken for granted as before.
For their part, Tusk and Juncker have expressed their own concerns about Trump.
Juncker once called Trump's campaign "absolutely disgusting" and told TIME magazine last week that his remarks on the EU were "highly unfriendly and not helpful at all".
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-02-20