Senators Urge Secretary Tillerson To Attend NATO Meeting

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Gary Peters (D-MI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Al Franken (D-MN) sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting of foreign ministers next month. They stated their serious concern that skipping the meeting and instead traveling to Russia will send the wrong message to the United States’ allies and adversaries.

“It is more important now than ever that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our European allies and prioritize our attendance at the upcoming NATO ministerial,” wrote the senators.

The senators emphasized their concern with Secretary Tillerson’s decision to travel to Russia next month, writing, “Given the increasingly aggressive behavior by Russia in the region and abroad and particularly in the operation of our respective democratic institutions, we must prioritize and reaffirm our commitments to NATO, not ignore them.”   

The meeting of foreign ministers next month is scheduled for April 5 and 6 in Brussels and will bring together all 28 NATO members.

Full text of the senators' letter is below and PDF is available here.

The Honorable Rex Tillerson

Secretary of State 

Department of State    

Washington, DC 20521

Dear Secretary Tillerson,

We write to strongly urge you to attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting of foreign ministers next month.  Earlier this week, State Department officials indicated that you did not plan to attend and would instead prioritize meetings with China and Russia.  Now we understand you are looking to have NATO reschedule its ministerial to accommodate those other meetings.

We recognize that you were confirmed as Secretary of State only recently and are in the early stages of forming your policy management team, but we find this initial setting of priorities very troubling.  The United States has long prioritized western democracies and transatlantic security.  Although it is important that our country pursue beneficial relationships with China and Russia wherever appropriate, those meetings and negotiations should not come at the expense of our 67-year-old historic alliance.  Nor should a meeting with Russian officials in Moscow occur before visiting Ukraine, in part to help fully appreciate the terrible cost the Russian-backed conflict has imposed. 

Next month's NATO summit of foreign ministers will bring together all 28 NATO members and it could not occur at a more critical time.  Our NATO allies have begun to question our commitment to the alliance, Russia is interfering in European elections, and Russia is threatening our NATO allies in the Baltics. 

The United States has been the primary agenda setter at past meetings.  Your absence at this meeting would not only be conspicuous, but it would send the wrong message to our allies and our adversaries.  Secretary of Defense James Mattis has called NATO "the most successful military alliance certainly in modern world history, probably ever."  Given the increasingly aggressive behavior by Russia in the region and abroad and particularly in the operation of our respective democratic institutions, we must prioritize and reaffirm our commitments to NATO, not ignore them. 

We urge you to affirm your attendance at NATO's meeting of foreign ministers in order to reassure our allies that the United States' commitment to NATO remains "unwavering," as Vice President Mike Pence recently characterized.  It is more important now than ever that we stand shoulder to shoulder with our European allies and prioritize our attendance at the upcoming NATO ministerial. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,