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Vice President Mike Pence vows NATO support, hold Russia 'accountable'

By Amy R. Connolly
Vice President Mike Pence vows NATO support, hold Russia 'accountable'
A handout photo made available by the press office of the German government (BPA) shows German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and US Vice President Michael Pence (R) having a chat during the 53rd Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, Germany on Saturday.. In their annual meeting, politicians and various experts and guests from around the world discuss issues surrounding global security from February 17 to 19. Photo by Guido Bergmann/Handout/EPA

Feb. 18 (UPI) -- Vice President Mike Pence vowed Saturday to hold Russia accountable for its actions and said the United States will be 'unwavering' in its support to the NATO alliance as he took to the world's stage at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, his first official international trip since taking office in January.

Pence's speech sought to calm nerves in response to President Donald Trump's positive remarks about Russian President Vladimir Putin and remarks during the presidential campaign that indicated a lack of support for NATO. At the same time, Pence said European leaders should be aware the Trump administration expects NATO members to spend more on defense.

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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 gathering. "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."

Pence said the United States would demand Russia honor a 2015 cease-fire agreement aimed at ending Ukraine violence.

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"And 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," he said.

Speaking immediately before Pence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel saids she was committed to meeting the NATO defense-spending goal set in 2014, putting 2 percent of Germany's gross domestic product in to defense spending. Germany currently contributes less. She stressed the importance of a U.S. partnership in fighting terrorism.

"The challenges of this world today cannot be mastered by one state alone. It needs a cooperative effort. We need to forge ahead with multilateral structures. We have to strengthen them," Merkel said. "Let me address this very openly. The Europeans alone cannot cope with fighting international Islamist terrorism. We also need the support of the United States."

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Pence will travel to Brussels on Sunday and meet with E.U. leaders Monday before returning home.

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