March 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not attend a NATO summit meeting at the beginning of April but will travel to Moscow a week later, State Department officials said.
Tillerson will not attend the NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on April 5 and 6, although State Department officials did not confirm his absence is connected to the planned visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping that week. Xi and Trump will meet in Florida.
Tillerson and the Chinese president met last week in Beijing to discuss North Korea and the threat of its nuclear ambitions.
The Washington Post reported the U.S. secretary of state would normally be expected to attend the NATO summit, but Tillerson determined it wasn't necessary for him to attend because he would be meeting with the same leaders Wednesday in Washington. Foreign ministers are gathering then for a summit on the Islamic State.
In February, Trump announced he would meet with NATO leaders later this year. During his campaign for president, Trump called NATO outdated and worried some members of the alliance by challenging whether the United States would rush to defend a member nation not meeting its financial obligations.
One week after the NATO summit, Tillerson is scheduled to travel to Moscow. As former CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson conducted oil negotiations with Russia and drew the friendship of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When asked on Tuesday about Tillerson's plans to visit Moscow, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency "I know nothing about it," RT reported.
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said she could not confirm Tillerson's plans, jokingly adding, "Is it time for U.S. political elites to decide: Have 'the Russian hackers' hacked the U.S. state Department servers again or is the threat to the security of the U.S. information of American origin?"