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  February 22nd, 2017 | Written by

The US and Europe: Which Policy Is It?

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  • Will the real US policy toward NATO, the EU, and Russia sanctions please stand up?
  • Pence expressed different views from Trump at meetings with European leaders this week.
  • Pence: Strong US commitment to partnership with the EU.

What’s the United States’ policy toward NATO, the European Union, and sanctions on Russia over aggression in Ukraine?

President Donald Trump is on record saying one thing on these issues, but Vice President Mike Pence has expressed different views – supposedly in the name of the president – at meetings with European leaders earlier this week.

At an appearance with European Council President Donald Tusk, Pence stressed “the importance of the strategic alliance the United States entered upon so many years ago in the North American Treaty Organization.”

What did President Trump say? “I think NATO is obsolete,” he told The New York Times in March 2016.

Trump has also said that NATO members pay their fair share of the costs of running the organization’s operations, a position reiterated by Pence. That’s not the same as calling NATO obsolete but it is identical to the policies pursued under the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. Under Obama, NATO countries committed to devoting two percent of GDP to defense by 2025.

Pence also that that “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.”

Trump has expressed differing views on that subject. “I don’t think it matters much for the United States,” he said of the EU, in January 2017. Trump also encouraged the United Kingdom to leave the EU.

And on the Russia sanctions over Ukraine? “The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable and demand that Russia honor the Minsk Agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine,” Pence said.

Note that holding Russia accountable hints at sanctions but Pence never used the word sanctions in his public remarks to the Munich Security Conference or in appearances with Tusk or with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Trump has long expressed the desire to roll back the sanctions on Russia. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us,” he said in January 2017, “why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”

It’s possible Trump has changed is mind on some issues or that he is politically unable to move in the direction he originally intended. Either way, it’s more important to observe Trump’s actions than to analyze his and the vice president’s words. In the meantime, Europe’s leaders, and many others around the world, will be on edge.