Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision to snub a semi-annual NATO meeting of foreign ministers in April which allies have called a “grave error,” “unprecedented,” and “alarming” is being reversed.
NATO General-Secretary Jens Stoltenberg said today that he met with Tillerson and they agreed to work out an alternative schedule that would accommodate the needs of all 28 member nations in the security alliance.
The meeting was to be held April 4 and April 5, but Tillerson had said he had to stay in the U.S. for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida and then had a trip to Russia scheduled.
When NATO officials first agreed to change the dates so Tillerson could attend both, the State Department rebuffed the idea, according to a former U.S. diplomat.
Yesterday the State Department said they would work to come up with new dates. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he wanted to allay allies concerns, adding that “the United States remains 100 percent committed to NATO.”
That is a big issue for the European allies after Trump made references to NATO during the presidential campaign suggesting he was not fully supportive of the alliance created after World War II to present a united front on defense, especially against encroachment by Russia. Trump has also demanded NATO members pay more to cover costs, instead of leaving most of the burden to the U.S.
The concern was even greater among Eastern European members of NATO who live in the shadow of Russia, which in the last few years has become aggressive about expanding its territory and flexing its military muscle in the region. That was aggravated by reports Trump’s campaign got secret support from Russia.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said they would put forward new dates for a meeting when Tillerson could come, noting that such a decision would have to be made by consensus among the 28 NATO members.
“We are certainly appreciative of the effort to accommodate Secretary Tillerson,” Toner told reporters. “We have offered alternative dates that the secretary could attend.”
He also sought to allay European concerns by saying that “the United States remains 100 percent committed to NATO.”
Now with NATO’s timely solution, Tillerson is left with no choice but to face the music and attend the meeting with America’s nervous allies.