Exclusive: Tillerson plans to skip NATO meeting, visit Russia in April – sources

FILE PHOTO - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on issues related to visas and travel
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks in Washington, U.S. on March 6, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

March 21, 2017

By Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a meeting with NATO foreign ministers next month in order to stay home for a visit by China’s president and will go to Russia later in April, U.S. officials said on Monday, disclosing an itinerary that allies may see as giving Moscow priority over them.

Tillerson intends to miss what would have been his first meeting of the 28 NATO allies on April 5-6 in Brussels so that he can attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, four current and former U.S. officials said.

Skipping the NATO meeting and visiting Moscow could risk feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers first, while leaving waiting those smaller nations that depend on Washington for security, two former U.S. officials said.

Trump has often praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Tillerson worked with Russia’s government for years as a top executive at Exxon Mobil Corp, and has questioned the wisdom of sanctions against Russia that he said could harm U.S. businesses.

A State Department spokeswoman said Tillerson would meet on Wednesday with foreign ministers from 26 of the 27 other NATO countries — all but Croatia — at a gathering of the coalition working to defeat the Islamic State militant group.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was due to have arrived in Washington on Monday for a three-day visit that was to include talks with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis and to take part in the counter-Islamic State meetings.

The State Department spokeswoman said Tillerson would not have a separate, NATO-focused meeting the 26 foreign ministers in Washington but rather that they would meet in the counter-Islamic State talks.

“After these consultations and meetings, in April he will travel to a meeting of the G7 (Group of Seven) in Italy and then on to meetings in Russia,” she added, saying U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon would represent the United States at the NATO foreign ministers meeting.

‘GRAVE ERROR’

Representative Eliot Engel, the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said that Tillerson was making a mistake by skipping the Brussels talks.

“Donald Trump’s Administration is making a grave error that will shake the confidence of America’s most important alliance and feed the concern that this Administration simply too cozy with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” Engel said in a written statement.

“I cannot fathom why the Administration would pursue this course except to signal a change in American foreign policy that draws our country away from western democracy’s most important institutions and aligns the United States more closely with the autocratic regime in the Kremlin,” he added.

A former U.S. official echoed the view.

“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsie with Russia,” said the former U.S. official on condition of anonymity.

“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 the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added.

Any Russian visit by a senior Trump administration official may be carefully scrutinized after the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday publicly confirmed his agency was investigating any collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.

Trump has already worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as “obsolete” and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.

Last week, he dismayed British officials by shrugging off a media report, forcefully denied by Britain, that the administration of former President Barack Obama tapped his phones during the 2016 White House race with the aid of Britain’s GCHQ spy agency.

A former U.S. official and a former NATO diplomat, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said the alliance offered to change the meeting dates so Tillerson could attend it and the Xi Jinping talks but the State Department had rebuffed the idea.

The former diplomat said it was vital to present a united front toward Moscow. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

“Given the challenge that Russia poses, not just to the United States but to Europe, it’s critical to engage on the basis of a united front if at all possible,” the diplomat said.

(Additional Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Lisa Shumaker & Simon Cameron-Moore)

  • Lawrence Dean

    “putting U.S. dealings with big powers first”

    Gee, imagine that.

  • Red

    It’s amusing to see the libtards have their panties in a wad over the Russians. Didn’t their leader, obama, say the Russians were no threat back in 2012?

    • Brian Simpson

      Yep, even called them the JV team.

  • Lee

    Russia has there own oil and they sell to Europe.

  • The other Donald

    Anything that bothers the commie democrats is a good thing

  • Dens

    My, my, my. The lefty ‘news’ wonks have been falling all over themselves to proclaim German Chancellor Merkel as the new ‘leader of the free world’ so why even mention Mr. Tillerson’s passing up a NATO meeting? According to the left, the United States doesn’t account for spit since Mr. Trump was elected so what’s the beef? NATO was set up to defend Europe from the real or imagined advances of Russia with the United States picking up most of the tab. Now, with Germany in the lead it’s time for them and their European cohorts to defend themselves without outside help and pay for it themselves. Meeting with the Russians to let them know where we stand regarding them is an excellent move, as usual, by President Trump.

    • Jay

      Herr Trump needs to find out how his Russian holding are doing and insure Putin He welcomed his help during the election and when can become a Russian and get his Russian passport

  • Clinicaleducator1

    FAKE NEWS!!!!

  • dan Lindsey

    Notable that these sources are “FORMER” “OFFICALS”— there may be a reason why they are “FORMER”….past or former foriegn policy generated by these FORMER OFFICALS is why we are in the mess we are now in foriegn policy. If something does not work do something else—past three decades have resulted in a weakening of our credibility with our enemies and allies, rise of terrorism and ISIS and destabilization of all western culture. Time to go return to a road that has worked in the past very well and adjust it to the world’s new face. NATO must adapt, help pay its way and start standing by us when we ask. Obama could not respond to Russia’s aggression during his administration even if he wanted to(which he didn’t) as our military is depleted and we do not have the manpower or equipment to respond anymore in Europe—Europe needs to step up and respond to threats at their doorsteps– by contributing their agreed to share of forces for that purpose. For over 50 years the USA has shouldered the overwhelming part of that defense while the socialist in Europe funded more and more free stuff for themselves. While we could not even keep our roads, dams and bridges maintained due to UN, NATO AND FORIEGN AID funding for countries that squandered it while hating us. Time to drain the swamp. Go Trump.

  • Bill Jr

    Exclusive: Tillerson Plans To Skip NATO Meeting, Visit Russia In April – Tillerson Said ‘Why Meet With Sissy’s When I Can Meet With Real Men.’ Sources

  • Jay

    To Russia we go Herr Trump sends oneofhistrolls to check on his holdings,sure is more important than a NATO meeting,so sad

    • “LIBERTY&FREEDOM”

      None of this relates to this chopped up re aligned Roiders garbage read. Yet you jey have found a way to insert your usual ridiculous repetive diatribe. Jey the choad…

      • Jay

        Once again fake news from a Herr Trump Troll L & F does that mean lostnot hyet found or is it loud and fat the choice is up to You

        • “LIBERTY&FREEDOM”

          WTH did you just type with your fat fingers? You type with a mouth full of ass? Jey loves che

    • Lee

      No, you are confused! Those holding’s belong to the Clinton Foundation. It was part of the uranium deal.

      • Jay

        Always with theHRC but never the one who should be responsibility

  • Zotus

    Leave it to Reuters to create a controversy where there is none. Tillerson will be meeting NATO diplomats this week in Washington for a conference. The state department will be represented by Tom Shannon, third ranking official, at the semi-annual NATO meeting while Tillerson instead travels to a G7 meeting in Italy then to Russia. No story here.

  • jeff

    Interesting, even though President Trump ran on a stronger national security apparatus, this is puzzling.

    • RedDog

      NATO meeting is routine maintenance/there have been several meetings with key NATO allies already by the Administration…China and Russia are the big rivals that require attention….but I’m sure this news will lead to Russian conspiracist hanging more pictures on their wall and buying another roll of string.

      • jeff

        Great points!

    • Hater

      So “Diplomacy first” is out the window/ taboo now that Shrillary and the Democraps lost?

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