Top world leaders, diplomats, and defense officials are gathering in Germany for the annual Munich Security Conference - an event that will be attended this year for the first time by members of the new USA administration of President Donald Trump.
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The visit comes amid concerns in Europe about Trump's relationship with Russian Federation which resurfaced with the ouster of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, over improper contacts with Moscow.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly are leading the U.S. delegation to the February 17-19 conference, known for providing an open and informal platform for allies - and adversaries - to meet directly.
Flynn who was advocated closer relations with Russian Federation has resigned after leaked reports that he has discussed US sanctions on Moscow with Russia's ambassador.
Vice President Mike Pence at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 31.
A diplomat from a eurozone country told BuzzFeed News that Flynn's resignation was welcome, and added that they expected the new U.S. administration to face many problems and challenges as it navigates its stances on rivals like Russian Federation and China, and allies like the United Kingdom and Germany.
One European military intelligence official said that while Flynn's resignation might be a positive, it won't immediately undo the negative perceptions that top American officials are too close to Putin's Russian Federation and that the national security apparatus is operating dysfunctionally.
Ischinger said expectations that Pence would speak at the conference on Saturday were extremely high.
Trump alarmed many allies in Europe during his campaign for the White House by his unorthodox views on the transatlantic relationship.
Merkel, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, European Council President Donald Tusk, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg are among the group of more than 30 heads of state and government, 80 foreign and defense ministers, and other officials expected to attend. How much can we trust that there will be constancy between the White House and the Pentagon in terms of these policies?
Pence's comments on Russia's incursions into Ukraine will be closely parsed to see whether Trump will be willing to trade off USA economic sanctions to achieve other security goals, said Vershbow, now with the Atlantic Council. "One minute NATO is an impediment and doesn't do anything for terrorism - the next minute NATO is the centerpiece of the global fight", said retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO.
Vice President Pence would be the appropriate person to give allies a more reassuring tone according to Stavridis.
While some observers and allies were reassured by Flynn's departure, most stated that the broader problem with the Trump administration is an opaque and conflicting policy making process that had left allies uncertain on how key Trump officials see the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance and relations with the European Union.