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Harris says US commitment to NATO is ‘ironclad’ as she aims to reassure its Romanian allies


Taking her first question from a Romanian journalist, Harris was asked what the chances are of the war between Russia and Ukraine extending into Romania, a former Soviet satellite state that’s been invaded by Russia repeatedly over the course of its history.

“As it relates to what might be the future conduct of Putin, I cannot speculate,” Harris said.

It was as clear an indication as any that the endgame to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion remains an open question, leaving countries like Romania anxiously wonder what his next move will be. American officials privately acknowledged the withering sanctions applied by the West – including new economic moves announced on Friday – aren’t likely to change his calculus.

After Russian and Ukrainian leaders engaged in halting talks over the past week, Harris appeared skeptical of diplomatic efforts underway.

“From the beginning, the United States has been attempting sincerely to engage in diplomacy,” she said. “From everything that we know and have witnessed, Putin shows no sign of engaging in serious diplomacy.”

And she acknowledged the pain tough economic sanctions might mean for Americans, though couldn’t say when the burden would be lifted.

“There is a price to pay for democracy,” she said. “Got to stand with your friends.”

Harris met with President Klaus Iohannis on Friday afternoon on her second and final stop on her trip to Europe. She is set to return to Washington later in the day.

In short remarks ahead of their sit-down talks, Harris and Iohannis both said they wished they could be meeting under different circumstances.

“Difficult times,” Iohannis observed. “Your visit here gives us strength and is living proof of our strong partnership.”

Reassurance mission

Harris’ trip has been a test both of her diplomatic abilities and the resolve of the broader Western allies to forcefully confront Putin for launching the largest ground invasion in Europe since World War II.

Biden has already dispatched 1,000 troops to Romania and pledged support for the country as it accommodates a major influx of migrants fleeing the war next door. But a visit by his No. 2 is meant to demonstrate American commitment at a deeply uncertain moment for the region.
Unlike Ukraine, Romania is a member of NATO, and an attack on the country by Russia would trigger the alliance’s collective defense treaty, which says an attack on one is an attack on all. Harris said during her remarks that “America’s commitment to Article 5 is ironclad.” Article 5 is the principle that an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all the nations in the alliance.

“We take very seriously our role and the relationships that we have within the NATO alliance,” Harris said at a joint news conference. “We take seriously and are prepared to act on the words we speak when we say an attack against one is an attack against all.”

“We are clear that the work that is to be done in response to Putin’s war includes standing strong within the alliance to support the needs of our partners,” she said.

An official traveling with the vice president said her visit was intended as more than mere symbolism, designed to show the US was putting its “money where its mouth is” by sending additional troops to NATO’s eastern reaches.

But the official also acknowledged that Harris’ brand of reassurance diplomacy gained more significance because Biden is intent on avoiding direct conflict with Russia.

“The President’s been pretty clear about not engaging in direct military conflict with Russia, not putting troops into Ukraine, but he’s also been pretty clear … about our determination to make Russia pay a price for that and to continue to provide assistance to Ukraine , “the official said. “And that’s why the vice president is here to make sure that we can do that in an effective way. And I think she has been very effective in doing it.”

Harris on a critical diplomatic trip

Harris arrived in Bucharest from Poland, where she reinforced American commitment to another NATO ally that is watching warily for Putin’s next move. She met with American and Polish troops Friday morning and said the US was committed to protecting “every inch” of the NATO territory.

“The United States takes seriously that one attack against one is an attack against all,” Harris said after meeting President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw.

She announced the US had fulfilled a delivery of Patriot missiles to Poland and promised to support the country as it grapples with its own surge of migrants, which has strained public resources, despite an overwhelming welcome from the Polish people.

Still, her visit also underscored the limits to American or NATO willingness to protect civilians in Ukraine. A plan that had been considered to supply Ukraine with Polish fighter jets was deemed impossible by the Pentagon before she arrived, and she offered little indication it may be revived in the future.

Instead, Harris underscored the military support the United States is already providing Ukraine short of air power, including anti-tank missiles, which the President of the country, Volodomyr Zelensky, has deemed insufficient.

“We’re making deliveries every day in terms of what we can do,” Harris said. Asked what more Ukraine could expect, she said, “That is an ongoing process and that is not going to stop to the extent there is a need.”

Harris also amplified atrocities that she said are ongoing in Ukraine, though she stopped short of calling them war crimes. She called on the United Nations to investigate.

In Bucharest, her answer to a similar question was brisk.

“We are clear that any intentional attack or targeting of civilians is a war crime. Period,” she said.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to more precisely describe the political relationship between Romania and the Soviet Union.