Sec. Tillerson to skip NATO foreign ministers meeting next month

In a move that is sure to raise a few eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not be attending the NATO foreign ministers meeting next month. Instead, Tillerson will be at Mar-a-Lago helping President Trump in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

Tillerson also plans to meet with President Putin in Russia next month.


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.

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.

That will be the view of most of the state department and the foreign policy establishment. But it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. President Trump made it clear on the campaign trail that he would keep the US in NATO - as long as other nations paid what he termed their "fair share" for US protection - but would deemphasize the importance of the alliance to US strategic planning. 

Is this really giving Putin what he wants? No doubt Putin would love to see the destruction of NATO, but that is not likely to happen. He might be more successful in driving a wedge between the US and the rest of the alliance by keeping the pressure on Ukraine and perhaps the Baltic states. This would increase calls within NATO for a more aggressive approach to Moscow - something that President Trump is likely to reject.

But Putin has his own problems, not the least of which is that he must tread carefully in Europe to avoid a confrontation with the US. It will be a delicate dance between the US and Russia over the next few years as Putin will seek to achieve his strategic objectives without finding himself in a war over Ukraine.


UPDATE from Monica Showalter

How's this for a spanner? RT News, living up to its Question More motto, has injected some hella weird questions about that Russia trip. The headline:

Moscow ‘knows nothing about’ reported April visit by Tillerson  

Kid you not, here are the voices of three important spokespeople for the Kremlin:

When asked about the reported visit on Tuesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told Interfax: “I know nothing about it.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, said she could not confirm Tillerson’s visit either.

“At this stage, we do not intend to neither confirm nor refute the information which emerged [in the media],” Zakharova wrote on her FB page, pointing out that the information had initially been leaked.

“It is time for US political elites to decide: have ‘the Russian hackers’ hacked the US State Department servers again or is the threat to the security of US information of an American origin?” she joked.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dodged the question about the news agency report.

“Let’s wait for the official statements on the matter rather than those of Reuters. For the State Department and the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to announce the visit,” he said.

It won't take long for this to get sorted out in the next few days, but it appears to be an embarrassment for Tillerson, comparable to the early problem he had with Germany in getting a hotel room. Seriously, planning a trip to someplace, announcing it to the press and the host says he has yet to be told about it? The questions raised, since we are Questioning More, are whether the Deep State sought to undermine the trip by getting word to Reuters about the trip before the arrangements were fully made, or Russia itself sought to undermine Tillerson by knowing all about the trip and then telling the press they didn't. 

Expect the media to chase windmills and run down rabbit trails on this one, while the Council on Foreign Relations wrings its hands and furrows its brows.



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