Pence Heaps Praise on NATO Alliance as Pompeo Warns About Russia

(Bloomberg) -- Vice President Mike Pence offered a full-throated defense of the NATO alliance and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo warned about Russia’s “grand designs” on Europe as the Trump administration officials traveled across Europe ahead of a key security conference.

“We are with you, we will stand with you, and the United States of America stands with Poland in the most successful mutual-defense alliance in the history of the world – an alliance that each of you serves to uphold and defend – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” Pence told U.S. and Polish troops at Okecie airport near Warsaw on Wednesday.

Before Donald Trump became president, statements like that were seen as boilerplate. But given Trump’s criticism of NATO -- and his repeated warnings that alliance members aren’t spending enough on defense -- America’s allies pay attention to every utterance.

“Under President Trump, the United States will always put the security and prosperity of America first,” Pence said. “But as the president has made clear – and as all of you prove every single day -- ‘America First’ does not mean America alone."

Pence and Pompeo are in Poland for an international summit on the Middle East this week, with the vice president continuing after that to an annual security conference in Munich. The top U.S. diplomat, who landed at a NATO base about 70 kilometers (44 miles) from the border with Russian-controlled Kaliningrad, picked up on the theme of NATO as a bulwark against threatened Russian aggression on the eastern front.

“Now, it is every ally’s responsibility to keep Europe free,” Pompeo said Wednesday. “Russia has grand designs of dominating Europe and reasserting its influence on the world stage. Vladimir Putin seeks to splinter the NATO alliance, weaken the United States and disrupt Western democracies.”

Pompeo’s comments came a day after he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. According to the State Department, Pompeo told the top Russian diplomat that the U.S. remains committed to holding Moscow accountable for its alleged chemical weapons attack on a former spy in the U.K. last year, and he urged Russia to come into compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty to avert the U.S.’s planned exit from the accord.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.