- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2019

NATO foreign ministers met in Washington Thursday as part of the alliance’s 70th anniversary commemoration, but two top Trump Cabinet members are skipping a follow-up meeting of G-7 ministers in France over the weekend.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen will be absent from the meeting, highlighting President Trump’s skepticism about the grouping of top industrial countries.

Former Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley said in an interview that “there’s always an explanation” for a missed meeting, but added that Mr. Pompeo’s absence “will certainly be noticed.”

“It will add to the existing tension between the United States and its key allies,” he added. “It’s clear we’re just not on the same page at the present time.”

Foreign ministers in the G-7, which includes France, the U.K., Japan, Canada, Italy, and Germany, are convening in Dinard, France, to prepare for the leader’s summit in August.

President Trump stirred up a hornet’s nest during last year’s G-7 summit in Canada, suggesting the members agree to embrace a full free-trade world with no tariffs or barriers — and then withdrawing from the summit’s joint communique after he felt insulted.

Prior to the summit, Mr. Trump suggested that the Group of Seven nations should allow Russia — evicted back into the group in 2014 in the wake of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea — back in, which was met with stark criticism from allies and many U.S. lawmakers as well.

The latest meeting comes on the heels of a three-day NATO 70th anniversary summit in Washington that underscored the alliance’s ongoing push to counter Russian aggression and calls for Russia to comply with the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty banning shorter-range nuclear weapons.

“This morning allied foreign ministers addressed Russia’s continued violation of the INF Treaty,” Mr. Stoltenberg said Thursday. “By fielding multiple battalions of SSC-8 missiles, Russia has made the world a more dangerous place.”

The NATO chief said, however, that it is “still possible for Russia to come back into compliance.”

Mr. Pompeo touched on the threat of Russia at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting and touted peace-keeping efforts among NATO allies.

“We must continue to do so,” he said, “especially in this new era of great power competition from Russia, from China, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said the fallout from the absence of top U.S. officials at the G-7 meetings “might be manageable,”

“At this point our European allies are used to being insulted,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s smart diplomacy.”

A senior administration official said on background that Ms. Nielsen flew back from earlier G-7 meetings this week to deal with the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mr. Pompeo’s deputy, John Sullivan, will attend the French G-7 meetings and plans to highlight a number of Trump administration foreign policy priorities, from the crisis in Venezuela and the threat from Iran to the nuclear talks with North Korea, according to the State Department.

Department spokesman Robert Palladino said earlier this week that Mr. Pompeo has “full faith” that Mr. Sullivan can represent him ably at the meetings.

Dave Boyer contributed to this story.

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