WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stressed Washington’s commitment to European security, especially as Russia continues what he called its "aggressive behavior ."
In a speech on November 28 at a Washington think tank, Tillerson said the United States would be the first to respond to any attack on a European ally under NATO’s Article 5 mutual defense clause.
Some European leaders have expressed concern that the administration of President Donald Trump may pull back from the alliance after demanding that European members spend more on their own defenses.
Speaking at the Wilson Center, Tillerson accused Russia of pursuing policies to "drive apart" Washington and its European allies.
Tillerson said Russia's military interventions in Georgia and Ukraine, and interference in European elections and politics were unacceptable and "not worthy" of a responsible member of the international community.
"While the West continues to seek a productive new relationship with post-Soviet Russia, thus far it has proved elusive," he also said.
'Better Coordination Needed'
Tillerson said the massive Zapad 2017 military exercises that Russia held with Belarus in September illustrated the need for better coordination between Washington and its European partners.
In reaffirming U.S. commitment to European security, Tillerson said Washington would never forget how NATO had "stood with us" after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.
At the same time, Tillerson said European partners needed to accept greater responsibility for their own security.
Tillerson repeated Washington's support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and called on Moscow to fulfill the terms of the Minsk agreements on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
He said Ukraine was the key to better bilateral ties.
"What I've said to the Russians is -- we are never going to get [the U.S.-Russian] relationship back to normal until we solve Ukraine," Tillerson said. "It just sits there as an enduring obstacle and we've got to address it."
After occupying and illegally annexing Ukraine’s Crimean region in March 2014, Moscow began fomenting unrest in parts of eastern Ukraine.
Moscow has provided political, military, and economic support to separatists who gained control over parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, sparking a war that has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.
Moscow denies involvement in Ukraine's internal affairs, despite compelling evidence to the contrary.
Tillerson said U.S. sanctions on Russia would remain in place "until Russia reverses" the actions that put them in place.
He also said that enhancing European energy security was crucial since Russia had used energy as a "weapon."
The secretary of state said Washington was working to ease rules on shipping crude and liquid natural gas, or LNG, to Europe.
He also cited infrastructure energy projects in Greece, Poland, and Croatia as part of efforts to achieve energy security.
However, he said the Nord Stream-2 pipeline project to transport Russian natural gas to Germany via the Baltic Sea was "unwise."
Tillerson said areas of possible cooperation with Russia exist.
"Russia has great fear of migration out of the Central Asian region and terrorism inside of Russia," he said. "We think there are areas of greater cooperation on counterterrorism with Russia. There may be opportunities for cooperation in Afghanistan -- we've not yet come to what that might be, but we are talking about it."
On other topics, Tillerson said the Balkans remained "fragile," and urged the nations there to "abandon old animosities so peace can become permanent."