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Mixed messages at Munich Security Conference

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö was among the international political leaders at this weekend's Munich Security Conference, where the new American administration's Vice President Mike Pence announced that the US strongly supports NATO. On the other hand, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the gathered dignitaries that NATO was an outdated Cold War concept. Meanwhile, Niinistö told reporters at the meeting that he felt Europe and the US have found common ground on the alliance.

Yhdysvaltain varapresidentti Mike Pence ja presidentti Sauli Niinistö tapasivat Münchenin turvallisuuskonferenssissa 18. helmikuuta 2017.
American Vice President Mike Pence at Finland's Sauli Niinistö meet at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday. Image: Katri Makkonen / Tasavallan presidentin kanslia

The Germany city of Munich set the main stage for world politics on Saturday as the Munich Security Conference got underway. 

Following criticism of NATO by American President Donald Trump, there was great interest in what message his Vice President, Mike Pence, would bring.

"Today on behalf of President Trump I bring you this assurance, the United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to this transatlantic alliance," said Pence.

But Vice President Pence did go on to stress that European NATO members need to increase their defence spending to the agreed upon 2 percent of GDP, which not all member countries are doing.

Niinistö: US and Europe finding common ground regarding NATO

Finland is not a NATO member. However, speaking with Yle at the meeting Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said that one of the meeting's main take-aways is that the US and Europe have found common ground regarding NATO.

"Through different turns of phrase, the message seems to be that both sides have helped, even made sacrifices, for one another," said Niinistö.

Meanwhile, in Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's address to the Conference he stated that NATO was a Cold War remnant that had reached the end of the road. Lavrov also said that NATO expansion had increased tensions in Europe during the past 30 years, before going on to emphasise Russia's desire to build a more pragmatic relationship with the US.

The Russian Foreign Minister went on to address Niinistö's suggestion that transponders be used to improve aviation safety in the Baltic region. According to Lavrov, Russia's positive attitude to Niinistö's proposal is a sign of Russia's willingness to cooperate with the West.

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