Vice President Mike Pence vowed Saturday that the United States will "hold Russia accountable" even as President Donald Trump searches for new common ground with Moscow at the start of his presidency.
Pence, in an address to the Munich Security Conference, also offered assurances to European allies that the U.S. "strongly supports" NATO. He said the U.S. would be "unwavering" in its commitment to trans-Atlantic institutions like NATO, according to an Associated Press report.
In his first overseas trip as vice president, Pence sought to calm nervous European allies who remain concerned about Russian aggression and have been alarmed by Trump's positive statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The address to foreign diplomats and security officials also sought to reassure international partners who worry that Trump may pursue isolationist tendencies.
Pence said the U.S. would demand that Russia honor a 2015 peace deal agreed upon in Minsk, Belarus, to end violence in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists.
"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 said
Pence met afterward with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who addressed the conference just before the vice president. Merkel stressed the need to maintain international alliances and told the audience, with Pence seated a few feet away, that NATO is "in the American interest."
Pence also scheduled meetings Saturday with the leaders of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko countries dealing with the threat of Russian incursion.
Pence also planned to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim.
The visit, which includes a stop in Brussels on Sunday and Monday, comes amid worries in Europe about Russian aggression, Trump's relationship with Putin and whether the new president may promote isolationist tendencies through his "America First" mantra.
In his remarks, Pence also reinforced the Trump administration's message that NATO members must spend more on defense.
NATO's 28-member countries committed in 2014 to spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense within a decade. But only the U.S. and four other members of the post-World War II military coalition are meeting the standard, Pence said.
Failure to meet the commitment, he said, "erodes the very foundation of our alliance."
"Let me be clear on this point: The president of the United States expects our allies to keep their word, to fulfill this commitment and, for most, that means the time has come to do more," Pence said.
--The Associated Press contributed to this report.