- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2017

Addressing Europeans’ concerns about the U.S. commitment to their security, Vice President Mike Pence said Monday that NATO members must start paying more this year for the alliance and stop relying on the U.S. to shoulder a disproportional share of the burden.

At meetings in Brussels, Belgium, Mr. Pence offered reassurances of American commitment but also reiterated President Trump’s displeasure that only four of the U.S.’ 27 NATO allies pay the agreed-upon 2 percent of their gross national product on defense.

“This must come to an end,” Mr. Pence said in a joint press conference with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. “The president of the United States and the American people expect our European allies to keep their word and do more.”

Besides the U.S., he said other countries that have met the 2 percent standard are Estonia, Greece, Poland and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Pence’s visit to Europe is his first since President Trump’s inauguration, and it came as both NATO and European Union leaders are seeking reassurances about the administration’s commitment to their traditional alliances. Mr. Trump raised questions during the campaign about NATO’s effectiveness and cost sharing, and he cheered Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

At a campaign rally Saturday, Mr. Trump said, “We’re fighting battles [in which] other people aren’t treating us fairly in the fight.”

“I’m a NATO fan, but many of the countries in NATO, many of the countries that we protect, many of these countries are very rich countries,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re not paying their bills.”

Mr. Stoltenberg said NATO is ready to pressure its European member nations to pay their “fair burden.”

The Trump administration’s demands are “clear, firm and fair,” the alliance’s chief said Monday.

“We are starting to turn the corner” on those investments, the NATO chief told CNN, adding that countries such as Romania and Latvia are poised to reach the alliance’s 2 percent goal, though major allies such as Germany and Italy remain well short of the target.

The vice president said Mr. Trump wants to see progress this year on NATO members paying more.

“Europe’s defense requires Europe’s commitment as much as ours,” the vice president said. “The president of the United States and the American people expect our allies to keep their word and to do more in our common defense. And the president expects real progress by the end of 2017.”

At a meeting with EU officials, the vice president also said the Trump administration will press the economic bloc for stronger cooperation on fighting radical Islamic terrorism.

“The safety and security of your union and our people depends on that increased collaboration in the global fight against terrorism,” Mr. Pence said at the EU headquarters in Brussels, while adding that Washington’s commitment to the success of the EU “is steadfast and enduring.”

European Council President Donald Tusk, who has raised concerns before about the anti-Europe rhetoric of Mr. Trump and his top advisers, delivered some blunt talk in a meeting with Mr. Pence.

“Too much has happened over the past month in your country, and in the EU,” Mr. Tusk told him. “Too many new and sometimes surprising opinions have been voiced … about our relations and our common security for us to pretend that everything is as it used to be. Thank you for this meeting. We all truly needed it.”

He told reporters that he pressed Mr. Pence on the Trump administration’s positions on “the international order, security and the attitude of the new American administration towards the European Union.”

“In reply to these three matters, I heard today from Vice President Pence three times ‘yes,’” Mr. Tusk said. “After such a positive declaration, both Europeans and Americans must simply practice what they preach.”

He said the EU is depending on the “wholehearted and unequivocal support” for the common-market organization.

“The world would be a decidedly worse place if Europe were not united,” Mr. Tusk told Mr. Pence. “We will not invent anything better than the European Union.”

⦁ Carlo Munoz contributed to this report.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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