U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Tuesday that the United States is committed to working with European allies, despite occasional disagreements.
“At the end of the day, no one should misinterpret occasional policy differences and debates as a signal of anything less than total commitment to our alliances in Europe. That commitment is strong,” she said, speaking to the U.N. Security Council.
Haley also called NATO the “strongest alliance in history,” and said the U.S. is working to make the organization “even more effective.”Her comments echo those made by Vice President Mike Pence on Monday, when he told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg the U.S. is committed to its NATO allies, but other countries also need to share the fiscal burden of defense more evenly.
"We intend to increase our defense spending. America will do our part," Pence declared of the new U.S. administration under President Donald Trump. But he added, "It is time for action, not words" by the 23 countries that have not met the minimum 2 percent threshold.
Stoltenberg said he agreed with Pence that other countries need to pay their fair share.
“The good news is we are moving in that direction," he said.
Trump has, in the past, suggested the United States might not defend NATO allies who did not spend their share on defense.
Haley said she believes the U.S. can have a better relationship with Russia, but greater cooperation with Russia “can’t come at the expense of our European friends and allies.”
“That is why we continue to urge Russia to show a commitment to peace by fully implementing the commitments under the Minsk agreements and ending its occupation of Crimea,” she said. “The United States and the EU remain united in this approach, keeping sanctions in place until Moscow fully honors its Minsk commitments.”
Under the 2015 Minsk agreement, Ukraine, Russia and Russia-backed separatists agreed to end the crisis in Ukraine, beginning with the withdrawal of heavy weapons.
Haley also called Russia's recognition of passports issued by separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine a "direct challenge to efforts to bring peace" to the region.
Her comments came just hours after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko pressed for new sanctions against Russia over its decision to honor the travel documents, which Moscow calls a "humanitarian" move to help residents of rebel-held areas affected by a Ukrainian blockade.
"From the point of view of international law, this is an element of recognition of these illegal entities and de facto renunciation of the Minsk process, since these steps are incompatible with the implementation of the Minsk agreements," Poroshenko said at a Tuesday meeting with the EU commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis management, according to a report by Russian News Agency TASS. "We believe that this is a very worrisome phenomenon, which requires decisive action up to tightening sanctions."
The Kremlin accused Ukraine of denying vital documents to people in the rebel-controlled areas and that its decision doesn't amount to recognizing those areas in any official capacity
"The Ukrainian authorities are doing all they can to make life as difficult as possible for the residents of those territories and make it as hard as possible for them to enjoy the most basic rights and freedoms,'' Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. "It's hard, and often impossible, to exercise those rights without documents.''
"Russian recognition of documents from separatist 'republics' is troubling and inconsistent with agreed goals of Minsk agreement," U.S. embassy officials in Kyiv tweeted on Sunday.
On Tuesday, State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner said the U.S. "rejects Russia's decision to recognize illegitimate passports and other documents being distributed by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions."
"This action undermines efforts to bring peace to eastern Ukraine," he said. "The United States expects Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate violence in Ukraine."
Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since April 2014, a conflict that has killed more than 9,800 people.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Ukrainian Service. Some information is from AP.