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World

Europeans Look To U.S. Officials For Reassurance At Munich Conference

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Donald Trump's presidency and his America-first policy has European officials worried. Those worries are being talked about this weekend at an annual security conference in Munich. Europeans there are looking to U.S. officials at the conference for reassurance. They want to know if the U.S. will remain committed to NATO and stand firm against Russian President Vladimir Putin. We go now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who's in Munich at the conference. Hello.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Hello, Kelly.

MCEVERS: So remind us why the Europeans are so worried.

NELSON: Well, the Europeans have a lot of problems going on in their own continent. At the moment, you have Brexit - in other words, the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. And you have a rise of nationalistic parties and candidates from those parties that would like to break up the European Union.

And then the leaders here in Europe are hearing that Donald Trump during the campaign and now early in his presidency is talking about NATO in very stark terms, calling it obsolete. They also perceive him as cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

MCEVERS: The highest profile people the U.S. sent to this conference are Vice President Mike Pence and Defense Secretary James Mattis. Have they given the Europeans the reassurance that they're looking for?

NELSON: Well, James Mattis spoke today, and he provided a bit of the reassurance on one hand, saying American security is permanently tied to Europe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES MATTIS: We all see our community of nations under threat on multiple fronts as the arc of instability builds on NATO's periphery and beyond.

NELSON: But he also reminded the 28 alliance members that they need to take on their fair share of the costs and manpower needs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTIS: To confront the threats facing our alliance, we must recognize not just strategic realities but also political realities. President Trump came into office and has thrown now his full support to NATO. He too espouses NATO's need to adapt to today's strategic situation for it to remain credible, capable and relevant.

MCEVERS: What did the Europeans have to say about Trump?

NELSON: Well, Mattis' German counterpart, Ursula Von der Leyen, gave what some here perceived as a jab at the U.S. president. She said the world, quote, "needs a globally committed, responsible United States of America." She also cautioned about making the war against ISIS a war on Islam because that's only going to create more terror and violence. But she also stressed that Germany is committed to increasing defense spending and deployments. She also echoed Mattis in saying all Alliance members had to do the same.

MCEVERS: Germany of course is among many European countries that are concerned about President Trump's open admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Did Mattis talk about that or about Russia generally?

NELSON: Well, he didn't say anything directly here. But in Brussels earlier this week, he told NATO allies that he didn't think it would be possible for now to collaborate militarily with Moscow.

MCEVERS: Thanks so much, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Kelly.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson at a security conference in Munich.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADRIAN YOUNGS AND ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD SONG, "COFFEE AT MIDNIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.