Pence says US 'strongly supports NATO,' will hold Russia 'accountable' for Ukraine actions

PHOTO: Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 2017 Munich Security Conference, Feb. 18, 2017, in Munich, Germany. PlayGuido Bergmann /Bundesregierung via Getty Images
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Mike Pence affirmed U.S. support for NATO and urged Russia to deescalate violence in eastern Ukraine while speaking Saturday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany. It was Pence's first overseas trip as vice president.

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"Today, on behalf of President Trump, I bring you this assurance: The United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in its commitment to our trans-Atlantic alliance," Pence said at the international security gathering, which was also attended by Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

"This is President Trump's promise: We will stand with Europe, today and every day, because we are bound together by the same noble ideals -- freedom, democracy, justice, and the rule of law," he said.

As for Russia, Pence took a defiant position, saying, "In the wake of Russian efforts to redraw international borders by force rest assured, the United States, along with the United Kingdom, Canada, and Germany, will continue its leadership role as a framework nation in the Enhanced Forward Presence Initiative and support other critical joint actions to support our alliance."

In specifically addressing Ukraine, Pence said "we must hold Russia accountable and demand that they honor the Minsk Agreements, beginning by de-escalating the violence in eastern Ukraine."

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

Pence also spoke about quashing Iran's attempts to obtain a nuclear weapon while slamming the lifting of sanctions against the country, saying Iran "continues to destabilize the Middle East, and thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran now has additional resources to devotwe to these efforts."

He continued, "Let me be clear: Under President Trump, the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries or our allies in the region, especially Israel."

Pence also described ISIS as "perhaps the greatest evil of them all. It shows a savagery unseen in the Middle East since the Middle Ages ... 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."

Pence also met briefly with U2 frontman Bono, who was another speaker at the conference. Pence and Bono spoke about their meeting previously when Pence, then a congressman on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, helped in passing an emergency plan for international AIDS relief.

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