Tillerson to skip NATO meeting, visit Russia: report

Tillerson to skip NATO meeting, visit Russia: report
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not attend the April 5–6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers, according to a new report.

Tillerson will instead stay in the U.S. to be on hand for a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, before traveling to Russia the following week, Reuters said Monday.

Reuters said it exclusively confirmed Tillerson’s expected schedule with four current and former U.S. officials.

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Sources told Reuters that Tillerson expects to miss what would be his first meeting in Brussels with representatives from 28 NATO members.

Tillerson will instead greet Xi alongside President Trump when the Chinese leader visits the United States on April 6–7.

Xi plans on huddling with Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.

Two sources told Reuters that Tillerson then expects to visit Moscow on April 12.

Two former U.S. officials told Reuters that Tillerson’s absence at the NATO summit and subsequent visit to Russia may fuel perceptions that Trump favors bigger powers over smaller U.S. allies.

“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” one source told Reuters. "You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats.

“You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies.”

A former NATO diplomat told Reuters the U.S. and its allies must be on the same page regarding Russia.

“Given the challenge that Russia poses, not just to the United States but Europe, it’s critical to engage on the basis of a united front if at all possible,” the former diplomat said. 

Trump administration officials may face extra scrutiny while interacting with Russia following Monday’s hotly anticipated House Intelligence Committee hearing.

FBI Director James Comey confirmed his bureau is probing Russian meddling in last year’s presidential race, including ties between Moscow and Trump’s election bid.

“As you know, our practice is not to confirm the existence of an ongoing investigation,” he said.

“But in unusual circumstances where it is in the public interest, it may be appropriate to do so,” Comey added, noting the Department of Justice authorized him to break bureau policy and publicly disclose the investigation.

“This is one of those circumstances. I can promise you we will follow the facts wherever they lead."