Pence aiming to reassure allies at start of Trump presidency
WASHINGTON (AP) — Making his debut on the world stage, Vice President Mike Pence will seek to reassure skeptical allies in Europe about U.S. foreign policy under President Donald Trump, who has made his “America First” mantra a centerpiece of his new administration.
Pence’s trip to Germany and Belgium, his first overseas trip as vice president, is aimed at reassuring European and Middle Eastern partners about the U.S. commitment to multinational institutions like NATO and the European Union, White House advisers said ahead of the trip. The visit comes amid concerns in Europe about Russian aggression, and amid lingering questions about Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and whether the new president may promote isolationist tendencies.
The dismissal of Trump’s national security adviser, retired Gen. Michael Flynn, has also put Pence and his stature within the administration under new scrutiny. Flynn was forced to resign Monday following reports he misled Pence about contacts with a Russian diplomat, which the vice president learned about through media accounts.
Pence was arriving in Germany on Friday to attend the Munich Security Conference, where he will deliver a speech Saturday and then meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Pence is also scheduled to sit down with the leaders of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko — countries facing the threat of Russian aggression — along with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
“These are pretty blunt-spoken people and they are very nervous. Pence is looking like an adult,” said James Jeffrey, a U.S. ambassador to Iraq during the Obama administration and a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The question is will Trump listen to him?”
Pence was also expected to meet with the leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. is embroiled in two separate wars. In the earliest days of his presidency, Trump declared his intention to fight and defeat the Islamic State group. But he also remarked that the U.S. may get a second chance to take Iraqi oil as compensation for its efforts in the war-torn country, a notion rebuffed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who will be meeting with Pence.
Trump’s immigration and refugee ban has also ruffled feathers with a number of Muslim-majority countries affected by the order currently tied up in court, including Iraq — a close ally in the fight against IS.
The American allies will be seeking clues from Pence as to how the Trump administration plans to deal with Russia in the aftermath of Flynn’s departure, U.S. inquiries into Russia’s involvement in the presidential election and Trump’s past praise for Putin.
European countries along Russia’s border were rattled about deeper U.S.-Russian ties after Trump suggested sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea could be eased in exchange for a nuclear weapons deal and the president referred to NATO as “obsolete” in an interview before his inauguration.