Rex Tillerson to miss NATO meeting
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a meeting with NATO foreign ministers next month.
According to reports, Tillerson will miss the NATO meeting to stay at home in preparation for a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Secretary of State will miss what would have been his first meeting of the 28 nations that make the NATO alliance on April 5-6 in Brussels.
According to four current and former US officials, Tillerson will instead attend US President Donald Trump's expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Missing the NATO meeting for visiting Moscow could risk strengthening a perception that Trump is putting US dealings with big powers first, while leaving the smaller nations that depend on Washington for security, out in the cold.
Trump has often talked about Russian President Vladimir Putin in glowing terms, while Tillerson worked with Russia's government for years during his time as a top executive at Exxon Mobil Corp.
Tillerson is also on record questioning US sanctions on Russia.
According to a State Department spokesperson, Tillerson would meet on Wednesday with foreign ministers of 26 of the 27 NATO countries, at a gathering of the coalition leading the efforts to defeat the Islamic State militant group. Only Croatia would have been absent from the meeting.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was due to have arrived in Washington on Monday for a three-day visit. His visit was to include holding talks with US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
Representative Eliot Engel, the senior Democrat on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the Trump administration is making a grave mistake that is sure to shake the confidence of America's most important alliance.
"I cannot fathom why the administration would pursue this course except to signal a change in American foreign policy" Engel said.