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Tillerson to attend NATO meeting following reports he would skip it

A State Department spokesman said late last week that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will attend a NATO meeting on Friday, following reports that he would skip the alliance gathering. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will attend a NATO meeting this week following a report last week that the chief diplomat would skip the gathering.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tillerson will meet Friday with NATO in Brussels, NBC News reported over the weekend. The official alliance meeting was initially scheduled for April 5-6.

A NATO official has confirmed it is planning to hold the meeting of NATO foreign ministers on March 31.

“We are currently planning to hold the meeting of NATO foreign ministers on 31 March,” the official said. “Consultations on scheduling among allies are ongoing.”

Ahead of the NATO meeting, Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Turkey on Thursday to meet with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other government officials to discuss strategies to defeat the Islamic State.

On April 12, the secretary of state will travel to Russia for a series of meetings, the purpose of which has not yet been disclosed.

After initial reports that Tillerson might skip the NATO summit, White House press secretary Sean Spicer took to Twitter to remind people that President Donald Trump plans to attend a meeting with NATO heads of state in late May.

Reports that Tillerson could have skipped the NATO meeting definitely raised eyebrows, given Trump’s adversarial relationship with the alliance. In mid-January, just days before being sworn in as president, Trump called NATO “obsolete.”

And while he told German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier this month of his “strong support for NATO” when the U.S. ally visited the White House, he sparked new controversy by claiming via Twitter that Germany “owes vast sums of money to NATO.”

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In addition, the president reportedly handed Merkel an “invoice” for $374 billion for the money he believes Germany owes NATO.

According to The Independent, the total being demanded by the White House was backdated to 2002, when former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pledged to spend more on defense. Trump reportedly instructed his aides to calculate how much German spending on defense has fallen below 2 percent over the past 12 years and add interest.

That assertion that Germany “owes” NATO, though, is somewhat misleading, according to Doug Lute, who served as the U.S. ambassador to NATO under former President Barack Obama from 2013-17.

“There is no ledger sheet that shows Germany in the red,” he told ABC News. “That’s not how it works in NATO.”

And German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said Germany has “no debt account” with the alliance.

Germany — like Canada, Spain, Italy, and others — has failed to spend at least 2 percent of its GDP on defense, a minimum pledge made by member countries in 2014. By contrast, the U.S. has been spending between 3-5 percent of its GDP on defense since the 2000s.

Merkel pledged during her meeting with Trump to meet the 2 percent minimum for the next seven years.

“We committed to this 2 percent goal until 2024,” she told reporters.

One last thing…
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