NATO has rescheduled its upcoming foreign-ministers meeting to accommodate Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after Tillerson said he was unable to attend on the original April 5 date.
The State Department said Friday the secretary would stop in Brussels on March 31, the day after he meets with Turkish leaders in Ankara. A NATO official said that “consultations on scheduling” among the alliance’s 27 other members for that date “are ongoing” but that an announcement was expected Monday.
Reports early this week that Tillerson had decided to skip the twice-yearly gathering of ministers, what would be his first formal meeting with NATO allies, brought sharp criticism from lawmakers and foreign policy experts who saw it as unwise from a security standpoint and as a sign of disrespect for the United States’ closest allies.
That criticism was compounded amid reports that Tillerson plans to travel to Moscow in mid-April.
The administration has been under bipartisan fire for President Trump’s stated desire to improve relations with Russia and his declaration of NATO as “obsolete” during his campaign. He has since charged that alliance members owe “vast sums” of money to pay for U.S. security guarantees against Russia and other threats.
In an indication of competing priorities, Tillerson has been criticized and depicted as irrelevant for failing to attend Trump’s meetings with visiting foreign leaders. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to be in Washington during the first week in April, when the alliance ministerial was initially scheduled.