NATO says it will reschedule meeting so Tillerson can attend

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2017 5:33 PM
NATO says it will reschedule meeting so Tillerson can attend

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of NATO said Wednesday he is certain a semiannual meeting of the alliance's foreign ministers can be rescheduled so Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can attend.

U.S. officials said this week that Tillerson was planning to skip next month's meeting in Brussels. Shortly after, he plans to visit Moscow. The decisions led some European officials to worry about the Trump administration's commitment to the alliance.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told The Associated Press in an interview that he met with Tillerson Wednesday and they agreed to have their staffs work out an alternative schedule that works for all 28 members of the security alliance.

"This has been a scheduling issue and that kind of issue is possible to resolve. 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," he said.

Stoltenberg was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting in Washington of the 68-nation coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

The State Department has not specified what the clash is in Tillerson's schedule, but President Donald Trump is expected to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a highly anticipated meeting around the same time.

During last year's election campaign, Trump called the alliance "obsolete" and criticized allies whom he said were not paying enough for their own defense.

But since taking office, Stoltenberg said Trump had sent "a very clear message" about his commitment to NATO. The NATO chief said he agreed on the need for more defense spending across Europe and Canada and for the alliance to step up contributions in fighting terrorism.

He said NATO has an "untapped potential" to help train local forces as it has in Afghanistan and has just started doing in Iraq. It is also providing surveillance aircraft support there.

Stoltenberg said he would discuss with Trump how NATO can help further when they meet at the White House April 12, and when Trump attends a meeting of NATO heads of state in Brussels on May 25.