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Pence Tells Europe: US Backs NATO, Will Put ISIS on 'Ash-Heap'

by Don Melvin /  / Updated 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Pence emphasized US support for NATO. EPA/PHILIPP GUELLANDPHILIPP GUELLAND / EPA

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The U.S. will consign the terrorist group ISIS "to the ash-heap of history," support NATO and will take a tough stance on Russia, Vice President Mike Pence said at an international security conference on Saturday in Germany.

"Throughout the Middle East, radical Islamic terrorists have found safe havens — and secured vast resources — that have allowed them to launch attacks here in Europe and inspire attacks in the United States," Pence said, speaking at the Munich Security Conference.

"As President Trump has made clear, the United States will fight tirelessly to crush these enemies — especially ISIS and its so-called caliphate — and consign them to the ash-heap of history, where they belong," he said.

Earlier Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appealed to the United States and others to support multilateral organizations such as NATO, the European Union, the United Nations.

Merkel told Pence and other world leaders, diplomats and defense officials at the conference that "acting together strengthens everyone."

Her address came amid concern that the Trump administration might have scant interest in working in multilateral forums.

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"Will we be able to continue working well together or will we all fall back into our individual roles?" Merkel asked. "I call on us, and I hope we will find a common position on this, let's make the world better together and then things will get better for every single one of us."

Pence, for his part, sought to allay such fears.

In his speech which followed Merkel's, Pence strongly supported NATO, the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization. During the U.S. presidential campaign, Trump had suggested that the U.S. might curtail its support for NATO unless other countries contributed more money to the organization's common defense.

Trump at one point questioned whether NATO was "obsolete."

And, when asked in July by the New York Times if he would come to the aid of the Baltic States — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — if they were attacked by Russia, Trump said he would only do so if the countries “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”

 German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice President Mike Pence at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Pence emphasized US support for NATO. EPA/PHILIPP GUELLAND PHILIPP GUELLAND / EPA

NATO members are expected to devote 2 percent of their gross domestic product to defense — a goal that not all of them meet. Still, Trump's comments as a candidate were seen as a departure from years of U.S. policy as a NATO member.

The organization operates on the principle that an attack on one member will be viewed as an attack on them all.

Pence, while still urging other nations to pay more, sought Saturday to reassure anxious allies.

"Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance," he said. "The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to our transatlantic alliance."

He did, however, add this warning.

"The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many for too long and erodes the foundation of our alliance," he said. "When even one ally fails to do their part, it undermines all of our ability to come to each other's aid."

In addition, Pence downplayed the new U.S. administration's embrace of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

"In the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force," he said, the U.S. will continue its leadership role and work with the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany to hold Russia to account.

"With regard to Ukraine, we must hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine," he said.

In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, which was part of Ukraine. And it has sent soldiers into eastern Ukraine to support primarily Russian-speaking separatists in that part of the country.

"Know this," Pence said. "The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable even as we search for common ground, which, as you know, President Trump believes can be found."

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