Secretary Of State Tillerson Will Visit Russia In April, But Will Miss A NATO Meeting

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, seen here during his trip to China on Saturday, will travel to Russia next month.

Updated at 10:35 p.m. ET

The White House says President Trump will attend a NATO meeting on May 25 in Brussels, and "looks forward to meeting with his NATO counterparts to reaffirm our strong commitment to NATO, and to discuss issues critical to the alliance, especially allied responsibility-sharing and NATO's role in the fight against terrorism."

The statement follows criticism of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's announced intention to visit Russia in April, but not take part in a NATO foreign ministers meeting, which is also next month.

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to visit Russia next month and will likely be in Florida as President Trump hosts Chinese President Xi Jinping, but he won't be in Brussels for a NATO foreign ministers meeting on April 5-6, the State Department says.

Tillerson will travel to Moscow in about two weeks, after he attends meetings of G-7 foreign ministers in Italy slated for April 10-11, the State Department says.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tells NPR's Morning Edition that he hopes Tillerson will be able to make the NATO meeting after all. "We always tried to find dates which work for all the ministers and, of course, the U.S. being by far the biggest NATO ally, it's particularly important to have the U.S. there, " he says.

News of Tillerson's trip to Russia emerged late on the same day FBI Director James Comey "confirmed that his agency is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia" in last year's U.S. election, as the Two-Way reported.

Standing in for his boss at the first session of NATO diplomats in Tillerson's tenure will be Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Tom Shannon, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, citing confirmation by a State Department spokesperson.

If the NATO foreign ministers stick to their recent pattern, the April meetings would be the first of two general sessions this year. The foreign ministers have been gathering in late spring and December, and at the most recent session, former Secretary of State John Kerry attended meetings that focused on cooperation between NATO and the European Union in a number of areas, from cyberdefense to hybrid terrorist threats.

While details of Xi's visit to the U.S. haven't been announced, the Chinese leader is expected to visit President Trump at Mar-a-Lago in Florida in early April — a date that could conflict with the NATO ministers' meeting in Brussels.

Tillerson will have a chance to meet NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday, when he hosts the 68 members of the Global Coalition working to defeat ISIS, a broad group the U.S. formed in 2014.

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