US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will skip the April 5-6 meeting of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) foreign ministers in Brussels, but will travel to Russia in the following week, according to reports.
US officials told Reuters on Monday Tillerson will miss the NATO summit so that he can attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
The disclosed itinerary of Tillerson will send a message to NATO allies that the Trump administration is giving Moscow priority over them, according to the report.
Reuters said it confirmed the secretary of state’s expected schedule with four current and former American officials.
China’s President Xi Jinping (left) meets Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 19. (Photo by Reuters)
Two former US officials said that Tillerson’s absence at the NATO event will create a perception that the new US administration favors bigger powers over smaller allies.
“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” one source told Reuters. “You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats.”
“You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of transatlantic group of great democracies,” the official claimed.
The Washington Post, citing State Department officials, also reported on Monday that Tillerson will not attend the NATO meeting.
Tillerson’s trip to Russia comes at a time when Moscow’s alleged cyberattacks during the presidential campaign are being scrutinized by the FBI and Congress, the Post said.
FBI Director James Comey on Monday confirmed during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that his agency is investigating the alleged Russian meddling in last year’s presidential race.
( L to R) James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Michael Rogers,director of the National Security Agency, testify during a House Permanent Select Committee on intelligence hearing concerning Russian meddling in the 2016 United States election, on Capitol Hill, March 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by AFP)
“As you know our practice is not to confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation,” he said.
“But in unusual circumstances where is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so,” Comey added.
“This is one of those circumstances. I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Trump and Tillerson are both in favor of establishing better ties with Russia and have talked about the possibility of lifting economic sanctions against Moscow if it cooperates with Washington in campaigns such as counterterrorism, and agrees to reduce its nuclear weapons. But Democrats and some hawkish Republicans oppose any such efforts.