Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday the U.S. was "absolutely, thoroughly, 100 percent committed" to NATO, and that its Baltic allies should ignore Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
"The fact that you occasionally hear something from the presidential candidate of the other party, it's nothing that should be taken seriously," Biden said during a meeting with the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. He said he didn't think Trump, who's repeatedly said he'd consider making U.S. military support conditional on whether NATO members have met their financial obligations to the bloc, understood Article 5 of the alliance treaty.
It provides that an attack on one NATO member should be considered an attack on all. The vice president echoed his criticism at a speech later Tuesday to the Baltic people from the Latvian capital of Riga, saying that "despite what you hear in this heated political season," there was enduring bipartisan support for NATO.
"Don't listen to that other fellow," Biden said. "He knows not of what he speaks."
Biden said there should be "no doubt" that the U.S. had pledged its "sacred honor" to the common defense provision. "We want you to know, we want Moscow to know, we mean what we said," the vice president added.
Trump has drawn criticism from U.S. lawmakers from both parties since he suggested in an interview with the New York Times that NATO allies could count on U.S. military aid "if they fulfill their obligations to us."
Few countries meet NATO's guideline that they spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. The U.S., U.K., Estonia, Poland and Greece were alone among the alliance's 28 members in meeting that threshold last year. Every Republican and Democratic presidential candidate has supported NATO since Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped down from leading the alliance to run for the White House in 1952.
Trump's comments came as eastern European nations are already skittish over Russian aggression in light of the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the conflict that ensued. The U.S. and European Union imposed sanctions on Russian political and business interests over the move.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said before a working lunch with Biden that they were confident in NATO's commitment to the alliance.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One on Tuesday that it was "dangerous to raise any doubt about the U.S. commitment to our NATO allies."
The vice president's remarks "were an effort to clear up any confusion that may exist on that front. And some of that confusion may stem from some of the rhetoric that we've seen on the campaign trail," Earnest said. "And that's unfortunate."
Russia has increasingly become a hot-button issue in the U.S. presidential campaign, with Trump drawing criticism over his depiction of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a strong leader with whom he could do business. Trump has said the U.S. should scale back its role in mediating the Ukrainian conflict.
Adding to U.S.-Russia tensions, the FBI is said to have high confidence that Russia was responsible for hacking attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic-affiliated groups that led to the release of stolen e-mails by WikiLeaks.
Last week, Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned amid reports he'd received millions of dollars in cash payments from Russian-aligned leaders in Ukraine. He has denied taking cash payments or any wrongdoing in his consulting work in Ukraine.
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