WARSAW – U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday that Washington’s dedication to the collective defense of NATO is “ironclad” as she visited allied Romania, which has experienced a flood of refugees from neighboring Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion there.
“We take seriously, and are prepared to act on, the words we speak when we say, ‘An attack on one is an attack against all,'” Harris said during a news conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Harris also thanked Romania, a Balkan country of 19 million residents, for welcoming tens of thousands of displaced people from Ukraine as of earlier this week. The Ukrainian refugee crisis is expected to only become more challenging in the days and weeks ahead, and Harris said the Romanian people have been “extraordinary in the generosity and the courage you have shown in this moment.”
She warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown “no signs of engaging in serious diplomacy” to end the war in Ukraine. And she reiterated that Americans should be prepared to endure higher gas prices as the U.S. and its allies punish Russia, a major global oil supplier, with economic sanctions for the invasion.
“There is a price to pay for democracy. Gotta stand with your friends,” Harris said, adding that “sometimes it’s difficult, often it ain’t easy.”
Iohannis said he would increase his country’s defense spending from 2% to 2.5% of its gross domestic product, or GDP, the latest example of European nations investing more in national security amid Russian aggression. He also said that NATO needs to “fundamentally rethink” its approach to its eastern flank, and he spoke with Harris about enhancing the alliance's presence there.
“NATO will act without hesitation to defend each and every allied state, including, obviously, Romania," Iohannis said. "It is a scenario that all of us want to avoid.”
Harris' talks in Bucharest with Iohannis came after she spent Thursday in Poland, which has already welcomed some 1.5 million Ukrainians since the invasion began last month. She met in Warsaw with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Ukrainian refugees and others in hopes of getting a fuller picture of the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
Harris told Iohannis soon after arriving in Bucharest that she sought to “reaffirm our commitment to this partnership and also to the NATO alliance as a whole.”
The southeastern European country of Romania had taken in more than 84,000 displaced people as of Tuesday, according to United Nations data. Other countries on NATO's eastern flank, including Hungary, Moldova and Slovakia, have also welcomed tens of thousands of refugees.
Harris said the U.S. was “absolutely prepared” to support those “who understand the moral obligation we should feel to help people who are fleeing harm and seeking refuge; the burden we should all be prepared to take on to support those people who are fleeing their home when they don’t want to leave.”
Duda, in a press conference with Harris, said Polish leaders are “aware that the problem is growing and that this problem is increasing.”
“We have to somehow handle it, and we do not have the experience,” he said.
Overall, more than 2.3 million people have fled Ukraine since the start of the war, and the number of displaced people continues to grow daily. The United Nations warns that up to 5 million people could flee Ukraine. That would make it the biggest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.
Duda said he had asked Harris to relay to President Joe Biden that Poland would like to see expedited visa procedures for Ukrainians who have family living in the United States so that they could resettle in the U.S. at least temporarily.
Harris said most refugees who have fled Ukraine prefer to remain in Europe. Earlier this month, the administration offered humanitarian relief to Ukrainians in the United States, which could protect thousands from being deported to their war-torn homeland. Ukrainians already in the U.S. would be able to stay in the U.S. for up to 18 months under the federal program known as Temporary Protected Status.
The Pentagon announced last month it was deploying a Stryker squadron of about 1,000 additional soldiers to Romania, a NATO member, as the Biden administration looks to bolster the military alliance's presence on NATO's eastern flank.
U.S. officials remain concerned about Romania's vulnerability in the midst of Russian activity in the Black Sea.
Before departing Warsaw for Romania on Friday, Harris met with U.S. and Polish troops.
“We stand as partners,” Harris told the troops. “We work together, we train together, we form friendships that are based on solidarity, mutual values and shared principles."
Megerian reported from Washington.