Rex Tillerson: US Secretary of State ‘plans to miss Nato talks for China meeting and Russia visit’

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (C) meets with US and South Korea soldiers before the lunch meeting at the Camp Bonifas near the border village of Panmunjom, which has separated the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, on March 17, 2017: LEE JIN-MAN/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s secretary of state Rex Tillerson is planning on skipping his first meeting with Nato to stay in the US for a visit from China’s president, before heading to Russia, it has been reported.

Four current and former US officials told the Reuters Mr Tillerson will miss the meeting of 28 Nato allies on 5 and 6 April in Brussels to instead attend the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he is expected to join talks with Chinese president Xi Jinping.

The news comes as FBI director James Comey has confirmed investigators are looking into possible links between Moscow and members of the president’s campaign team.

The Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Tom Shannon, will instead represent the US at the Nato foreign ministers meeting, a State Department spokesperson said, though the reason for Mr Tillerson’s absence has not been confirmed.

The spokesperson added that Mr Tillerson will be meet with the foreign ministers of 26 Nato members on Wednesday for a planned meeting of the Global Coalition to Counter Isis, but will not hold separate talks to discuss issues related to the alliance. Representatives from Croatia will not be in attendance.

“After these consultations and meetings, in April [Mr Tillerson] will travel to a meeting of the G7 in Italy and then on to meetings in Russia,” the spokesperson told Reuters.

Representative Elliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said that if the news is true, Mr Trump’s organisation is “making a grave error that will shake the confidence of America’s most important alliance and feed the concern that this administration is simply too cozy with Vladimir Putin,” ABC reported.

Mr Trump has previously made statements about Nato that shocked other member states, questioning the organisation’s significance by calling it “obsolete” before he was sworn into office “because it wasn’t taking care of terror”.

Following a visit from German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week the president tweeted claims that the European country owes Nato and America “vast sums of money”, a statement that has been rejected by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.