US Vice-President Mike Pence (L) shakes hands with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) at the European Commission in Brussels on February 20, 2017. The European Union counts on getting the same complete support from the Trump adminstration as from its predecessors, European Council head Donald Tusk said on February 20. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYS
US Vice President Mike Pence sought to reassure Europe Monday of Donald Trump’s commitment to transatlantic ties as he met EU chiefs in the face of anti-Trump protests.
Pence was in Brussels at the end of a European trip aimed at comforting allies fearful US President Trump might abandon them.
“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 after talks with EU president Donald Tusk.
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.
– Topless protest –
Scores of protesters gathered outside EU headquarters, criticising the Trump administration’s attitude toward 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 “obsolete”, his praise for Britain’s decision to leave the EU and prediction that others would follow, plus his apparent tilt to 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 European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and will later meet 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.
– ‘Absolutely disgusting’ –
The Brussels trip follows a visit to the Munich Security Conference, where Pence 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 continue to seek reassurance from Washington even though Pence, US Defence Secretary James Mattis and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stuck close to established policy during their first foray into Europe.
Pence said Washington would push Russia to honour the Minsk ceasefire accords 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 had not mentioned the EU, after Trump welcomed Brexit and appeared to voice hope that other EU states would follow suit.
Mogherini has said Pence’s visit is “a very important political sign,” though she suggested EU-US relations may become more pragmatic and less automatic than before.
She has also played down fears that fears that businessman Ted Malloch might be named the next US ambassador to Brussels despite anti-EU comments.
Tusk and Juncker have also expressed concerns about Trump.
Juncker has called Trump’s campaign “absolutely disgusting” and told TIME magazine last week that Trump’s remarks on the EU were “highly unfriendly and not helpful at all.”