Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday hailed the “profound and lasting strength” of the Polish people in a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, stepping in for President Trump as a major hurricane threatened the southeastern U.S.
“On this occasion, if any should doubt that the destiny of mankind is freedom, let them look to Poland — to the courageous Polish people — and see for themselves the indomitable spirit, strength and resilience of a freedom-loving people standing on a foundation of faith,” Mr. Pence said in Poland’s capital, Warsaw.
The vice president evoked Mr. Trump’s address in the same city two years ago, when he hailed the Poles as a people who have “never been broken” or “forgotten who they are.”
Mr. Pence also alluded to Poland’s contributions to NATO. Its government is spending at least 2% of gross domestic product on defense, a benchmark that Mr. Trump would like other member countries to meet.
“America and Poland will continue to stand with all of our allies for our common defense,” Mr. Pence said. “And America and Poland will also continue to call on all our allies to live up to the promises that we’ve made to one another.”
Mr. Trump was scheduled to address the somber crowd in Warsaw but canceled his visit to monitor Hurricane Dorian, which slammed into the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm Sunday and inched toward the Eastern Seaboard.
Mr. Trump spent hours Saturday at his golf club in Virginia, raising some eyebrows after he scrapped his appearance in Poland.
White House aides said he was briefed on the storm each hour and wanted to remain “nimble” by staying in the U.S. with his agency directors instead of traveling overseas as planned.
Polish President Andrzej Duda presided over Sunday’s ceremony, which recalled the German invasion on Sept. 1, 1939.
World War II devastated Poland. It lost millions of citizens, including much of its Jewish population, and rebuilt itself as part of the Eastern Bloc before instituting a non-communist government in 1989.
Mr. Pence hailed the “long roll call of Polish heroes” who fought for the triumph of good over the Nazis’ “evil ideology, based on racial conquest and authoritarian rule.”
“We remember those that were lost on this day, but we also do well to celebrate an enduring victory for freedom and the role that the people of Poland played by their strength and their example,” Mr. Pence said.
He highlighted American sacrifices in the war, “with honor and gratitude.”
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who spoke before Mr. Pence, acknowledged his nation’s “painful” legacy in the conflict.
“We will not forget the wounds that Germans inflicted on Poland and the Polish people,” Mr. Steinmeier said.
He also addressed Mr. Pence directly, saying the U.S. and Europe must preserve the partnership they forged after the war.
“Europe needs partners, and I am certain that the United States also needs partners in this world,” Mr. Steinmeier said. “Let us look after this partnership.”
Mr. Pence reassured one U.S. partner, Ukraine, that Americans would stand by its side.
“I can assure you, Mr. President, that the relationship between the United States and Ukraine has never been stronger,” Mr. Pence told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a former comedic actor who was elected in April, during a sit-down Sunday in Warsaw.
Mr. Pence offered those assurances amid reports that Mr. Trump is slow-walking $250 million in planned security aid to Ukraine, saying he wants to be sure it is spent wisely.
Mr. Pence ignored reporters’ questions about the aid, though said he is looking forward to discussing Russia’s compliance with the Minsk accords, which established a cease-fire amid skirmishes in eastern Ukraine.
European leaders want Russia to comply with the accords before it considers its readmission to the Group of Seven leading industrial nations, even as Mr. Trump is pushing hard to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin back into the fold.
Russia was removed from the group for annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
Mr. Pence said the Trump administration has “stood with the people of Ukraine and most especially since 2014, we have stood strongly for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
“And I can assure you,” he said, “that we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine on your security, on territorial integrity, including Ukraine’s rightful claim to Crimea.”
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