Tillerson to skip NATO meet: US State Department

Washington: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will skip a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) meeting early April, the US State Department has confirmed.

“The Secretary’s schedule does not permit him to attend the NATO ministerial on those dates, but… we’re trying to accommodate this in his schedule,” said his acting spokesman Mark Toner at a briefing on Tuesday.

Instead, the US will send Tom Shannon, the acting Deputy Secretary of State, to the NATO meeting on April 5-6, said Toner, Xinhua news agency reported.

Though Tillerson would not be the first US Secretary of State to skip the NATO meeting, his decision came at a time when US allies in NATO are questioning whether President Donald Trump would continue to support the 28-nation alliance.

During his presidential campaign and after the election victory, Trump blasted NATO as “obsolete” and demanded other NATO allies to raise their defence spending.

NATO members are expected to spend two per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on defence by 2024. So far, only five signatory governments, including the US, have met the obligation.

However, since his inauguration in January, Trump and his senior officials have repeatedly pledged full support for NATO.

“We have raised concerns, certainly, about NATO allies all reaching their commitments,” said Toner.

“But that shouldn’t in any way speak to our disregard for the alliance or our commitment to the alliance and the security of Europe,” Toner added.