Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip a semiannual meeting of NATO foreign ministers in April and will reportedly stay behind to meet with China President Xi Jinping and will go to Russia later in the month.
Tillerson would miss the first meeting of the 28 NATO allies, which takes place on April 5 and 6 in Brussels, in order to attend President Trump’s meeting with Xi at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort on April 6 and 7, U.S. officials told Reuters Monday. Tillerson will also attend the G7 meeting in Italy before traveling to Moscow.
U.S. officials added that Tillerson will meet NATO diplomats this week in Washington for a conference on defeating the Islamic State, suggesting there was no need for him to attend the Brussels meeting. Instead, the State Department Under Secretary Tom Shannon will represent t the U.S. at the meeting.
With Tillerson planning on skipping the NATO meeting, two former U.S. officials told Reuters that the move could be seen as Trump putting the bigger world powers ahead of smaller nations that depend on U.S. security.
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the Trump administration would be making a “grave error” by skipping the Brussels meeting.
"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 Vladimir Putin," he said. “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.”
Trump and NATO have already gotten off to a rocky start. The president said in January that the alliance was “obsolete,” while calling the European Union a “vehicle for Germany.” He also tweeted last weekend that Germany owed “vast sums of money” to the alliance.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.