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Tillerson to Skip NATO Meeting, Visit Russia in April

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives at Haneda international airport in Tokyo, as the first stop of his tour to Asia, March 15, 2017.

The U.S. State Department confirmed Tuesday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not attend the NATO foreign ministers' summit in Brussels this April.

He will, however, be traveling to Italy and Russia the same month for a meeting of the G-7.

Tillerson will miss what would have been his first meeting with the 28 NATO allies to attend President Donald Trump's meeting with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, Reuters news agency reported.

State Department officials say Tom Shannon, acting deputy of secretary of state for political affairs and former acting secretary, will represent the U.S. at the NATO meeting.

U.S. officials noted that Tillerson is meeting with most of the NATO foreign ministers on Wednesday when the Coalition to Defeat Islamic State meets in Washington.

Making a mistake

Representative Eliot Engel, the senior Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives foreign affairs committee, said that Tillerson was making a mistake by skipping the Brussels talks.

"Donald Trump's Administration is making a grave error that will shake the confidence of America's most important alliance and feed the concern that this Administration simply too cozy with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin," Engel said in a written statement.

"I cannot fathom why the Administration would pursue this course except to signal a change in American foreign policy that draws our country away from western democracy's most important institutions and aligns the United States more closely with the autocratic regime in the Kremlin," he added.

Trump dismissed NATO as "obsolete" in January, though Vice President Mike Pence voiced staunch U.S. support for the alliance during a news conference in Brussels last month..

VOA State Department correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report. Some information came from Reuters