Secretary of State Tillerson to skip NATO meeting

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WASHINGTON — In a move that could puzzle international allies of the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is not only skipping a NATO meeting in Brussels next month but also heading to Moscow.

This week, he will meet with several of his counterparts from NATO member countries, a spokesman confirmed, but will skip a scheduled meeting in April.

Washington will host the coalition to defeat ISIS starting Wednesday and Tillerson will meet with the NATO members’ foreign ministers then, the spokesman said.

The spokesman said the secretary’s trip will come after a foreign ministers’ G7 meeting in Italy.

Acting Deputy Secretary of State Tom Shannon will represent the U.S. at the NATO meeting, which will take place April 5-6 in Brussels.

The meeting takes place shortly before Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the U.S. for a crucial meeting with the Trump administration. Tillerson laid the groundwork for the meeting during a visit to Beijing last week.

The State Department would not say that the Xi visit is the reason Tillerson won’t attend the NATO meeting.

NATO snub?

The move could be interpreted as another snub to the U.S.’ traditional allies in favor of Russia, which President Donald Trump routinely spoke about positively on the campaign trail.

While his surrogates — including Tillerson — have sought to reassure NATO partners of the U.S.’ commitment to the organization, Trump has repeatedly criticized the group. In an interview prior to taking the presidency, Trump blasted NATO as “obsolete.”

More recently he spoke of his dissatisfaction with the financial arrangements of NATO and the U.S.’ partners’ defense spending.

During a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump reiterated the U.S.’ commitment to NATO but said allies must pay their “fair share” for defense.

“Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the United States,” he said last week. “These nations must pay what they owe.”

The statement is a mischaracterization of the commitments that NATO members have — under the treaty, countries in the bloc have agreed to target a spend on defense of 2 percent of GDP, but do not accrue debts if they have not met these targets.

Currently five member countries, including the U.S., spend at least this amount on defense. However, other member countries are aiming to meet the 2 percent target, according to NATO.

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