MUNICH (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence rebuked European powers over Iran and Venezuela on Saturday in a renewed attack on Washington’s traditional allies, rejecting a call by Germany’s chancellor to include Russia in global cooperation efforts.
In speeches and in private talks at the Munich Security Conference, Pence and Chancellor Angela Merkel laid out competing visions for how the West should address world crises.
“America is stronger than ever before and America is leading on the world stage once again,” Pence told European and Asian officials in Munich, listing what he described as U.S. foreign policy successes from Afghanistan to North Korea, and urging support from American allies.
“America First does not mean America alone,” he said, hailing the results of Donald Trump’s presidency as “remarkable” and “extraordinary”, and calling on the EU to follow Washington in quitting the Iran nuclear deal and recognising the head of Venezuela’s congress, Juan Guaido, as the country’s president.
Addressing an audience that included Trump’s daughter Ivanka, Pence’s speech was the latest attempt by a Trump administration official to put the president’s “America First” agenda into a coherent policy plan.
European leaders are troubled by Trump’s rhetoric, which they say is erratic and disruptive, citing his decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as undermining an arms control agreement that prevented Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb.
But Pence — who last week accused Britain, Germany and France of undermining U.S. sanctions on Iran — repeated his demand for European powers to withdraw from the deal.
“The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the disastrous Iran nuclear deal,” he said, and later pressed Merkel over the issue in bilateral talks.
He also reiterated to her Washington’s opposition to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under construction between Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea. “We cannot strengthen the West by becoming dependent on the East,” Pence said.
Merkel, who made a robust defence of Germany’s foreign trade relations and ties with Russia during her speech, said later it was unreasonable to assume that Russia would be an unreliable energy supplier.
Speaking before Pence, Merkel questioned whether the U.S. decision to leave the Iran nuclear deal and withdrawal from Syria was the best way to tackle Tehran in the region.
During a question-and-answer session, she added that it would be wrong to exclude Russia politically, but Pence said Washington was “holding Russia accountable” for its 2014 seizure of Ukraine and what the West says are efforts to destabilise it through cyber attacks, disinformation and covert operations.
“Geostrategically, Europe can’t have an interest in cutting off all relations with Russia,” Merkel said.
Pence, who used his trip to Europe to push Trump’s policy of favouring sovereign states as opposed to alliances and blocs, took aim at the EU over Venezuela’s political crisis.
“Today we call on the European Union to step forward for freedom and recognise Juan Guaido as the only legitimate president of Venezuela,” he said, calling President Nicolas Maduro a dictator who must step down.
In his roving address, Pence also stepped up U.S. pressure on Chinese telecoms gear companies such as Huawei Technologies Co, urging allies to avoid the firms and saying Chinese law requires them to give Beijing access to networks and data.
China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi rejected Pence’s comments. “Chinese law doesn’t require companies to install back doors to collect intelligence,” Yang told the conference.
Yang, one of the architects of Chinese foreign policy, echoed Merkel’s vision, saying the world should “pull together” to address global challenges, while former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden got a standing ovation for a speech in which he said that after Trump, close traditional U.S.-EU would resume. “America will be back,” he said.
Additional reporting by John Irish and Madeline Chambers; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Helen Popper