Secretary of State Rex Tillerson faced stern feedback from some of his European counterparts over the Trump administration’s controversial foreign policies like recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and decertifying the Iran nuclear deal.
Tillerson told reporters Wednesday at a NATO summit in Brussels that he saw a “very good opportunity” for Middle East peace. But many of his counterparts expressed concern over the U.S.’s position on Israel.The harshest language came from Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu, who before stepping into a bilateral meeting with Tillerson, called the impending decision a “grave mistake.”
Following that meeting, U.K.’s foreign minister Boris Johnson stepped in front of the Secretary of State at a photo-opportunity to tell reporters that the U.S. must present its plan for Middle East peace now if they’re going to move the U.S. embassy in Israel.
The European Union’s chief diplomat Federica Mogherini warned on Tuesday that any action to move the capital by the U.S. would “undermine” the peace process between Israel and Palestine.
While standing next to Tillerson at the European Council, Mogherini also openly disagreed with the U.S.’s decision to decertify the Iran Nuclear deal.
"Dismantling an agreement on nuclear issues that is working - as the International Atomic Energy Agency has certified nine times - would not put us in a better position to discuss all the rest on the country," she said.
“We believe that any action that would undermine this effort must absolutely be avoided."
Tillerson dismissed reports that he would soon be ousted from his position by the White House telling reporters, “This is a narrative that keeps coming up every 6 weeks. You all need to get some new sources. I would say your story keeps being wrong.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he isn’t concerned about rumors that Tillerson may not be in the job when they meet again.
"NATO ministers are able to focus on the core tasks of the job we have to do despite any speculation and rumors," Stoltenberg said a press conference, adding that Tillerson has a strong commitment to NATO.
Tillerson arrived at NATO carrying on Trump’s unpopular message that all alliance members must pay their share of defense spending or 2 percent of their GDP. One of his missions was to push European allies to apply trade pressure on China that would incentivize them to contain the situation in North Korea.
Calling Russia’s aggression in Ukraine the “biggest threat to European security,” Tillerson also sought a more aggressive strategy for dealing with Russia.
But he was met at the summit by defiant allies who were already disappointed in the U.S. for pulling out of the Paris Climate accord and failing to certify the Iran deal.
Before arriving at the NATO summit, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel made a sweeping condemnation of Trump’s “America First” policy. Gabriel warned that the U.S. “will never be the same” post-Trump’s presidency, and added that Germany should put its own priorities first when setting foreign policy.
"The US no longer sees the world as a global community, but as a fighting arena where everyone has to seek their own advantage," Gabriel said at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum on Monday.
Russian aggression in Ukraine will be top of the agenda at Tillerson’s next stop on his European tour at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday. He will also meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the event.
But before touching down in Vienna, he started preparing for his next diplomatic jaunt to Africa, stopping off at a air force base in Germany to receive a briefing from EURCOM and AFRICOM.
Tillerson is planning a trip to Africa in the first quarter of 2018, according to a State Department spokesperson.