Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s pulling some unorthodox moves in the early days of his tenure. He’s looking to play hardball with North Korea, which might include “financial penalties” for countries who do business with the nuke-happy country. Tillerson’s also revealing himself to be a press-shy chap (“I’m not a big media press access person”). Thirdly, he’s decided to skip his first NATO meeting in April, but Tillerson won’t be avoiding a visit to Russia.
NATO countries likely won’t be pleased at this news, since Tillerson’s missing the meeting in order to attend a Mar-a-Lago meeting with Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, and later in April, he’ll pop over to Russia. Naturally, this prompts concerns that Trump and Tillerson are prioritizing meetings with larger powers over smaller NATO allies. And that’s not all, of course:
“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added.
“Footsy” is certainly one way of putting it. This, perhaps, doesn’t present the best look with the House Intel Committee’s Trump-Russia hearings dominating the news, although to be fair, it’s unlikely that the subject will disappear anytime soon. Trump has made little secret of wanting to foster productive relations with Vladimir Putin, and Tillerson’s already business-friendly with the Russian leader. Mostly, this is a sign that Trump doesn’t much care for NATO, but we knew this already. Further, any visit between Tillerson and Russia is going to be roasted and scrutinized into oblivion, no matter when it happens, although the timing here is rough.