Tillerson to attend NATO meet next week

Tillerson to attend NATO meet next week
© Greg Nash

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe four China strategies Trump or Biden will need to consider Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet How the US could respond to Russia's support of the Taliban MORE will attend a major NATO meeting next week he initially planned on skipping, according to multiple reports.

Tillerson will appear at the March 31 event in Brussels after the military alliance made scheduling changes to accommodate him, a State Department official said.

Mark Toner, the State Department’s acting spokesman, said the agency sent NATO “alternative dates” and is “certainly appreciative of the effort to accommodate Secretary Tillerson” following the changes.

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A senior department official said Friday that Tillerson will visit Turkey next week before reaching the NATO huddle in Brussels.

Tillerson’s talks in Ankara come as the U.S.-led coalition escalates its military campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces in Raqqa, Syria, Reuters said.

Reports emerged Monday that Tillerson would miss meeting with foreign ministers from 28 NATO member nations originally scheduled for April 5–6.

Tillerson reportedly planned on staying in the U.S. to greet Chinese President Xi Jinping, before traveling to Russia the week after Xi’s visit. Xi plans on meeting with President Trump at Trump's Mar-a-Largo resort in Palm Beach, Fla., April 6–7.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday the military alliance would reshuffle its schedule to accommodate Tillerson.

“This has been a scheduling issue and that kind of issue is possible to resolve,” he told The Associated Press. "So I’m absolutely certain we will be able to find a date that works for everyone so we will have all the ministers present.”

Tillerson’s initially reported absence at next week’s NATO summit sparked criticism that the decision might fuel perceptions that Trump favors bigger powers over smaller U.S. allies.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Thursday it would send “a most unfortunate signal” if Tillerson missed the first NATO foreign ministers meeting since he took office.

- Updated at 3:53 p.m.