* NATO official advises no date has been confirmed
* Tillerson's presence seen as indicator of U.S. support
* Rare for U.S. top diplomat to miss a NATO meeting
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, March 24 NATO foreign ministers aim to
meet the new U.S. secretary of state on March 31 if no other
allies object, alliance diplomats said, ending a furore about
Rex Tillerson's decision to skip a planned April meeting to
attend a summit with China.
If no agreement is found soon, the meeting will go ahead as
scheduled on April 5-6, three diplomats said. There has also
been discussion about a gathering before the G7 foreign
ministers meeting in Italy on April 10-11, which Tillerson will
attend, but March 31 is the preferred date, diplomats said.
A NATO official said there was no decision yet. NATO
Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview
this week that both NATO and the United States were looking for
a new date for talks.
Reuters exclusively reported on Monday that Tillerson, a
former top executive at Exxon Mobil Corp who worked with
the Russian government, would skip his first meeting with all
NATO foreign ministers for a U.S. visit by the Chinese president
and travel to Russia in April.
Tillerson's potential no-show increased unease among
European allies about U.S. President Donald Trump's commitment
to the Western military alliance despite assurances by his
defence minister and vice president of support.
During his election campaign and on the eve of taking
office, Trump called NATO "obsolete". He has since said he
strongly supports the alliance, but in interviews and speeches
he continues to air grievances over what he see as Europe's
failure to pay its fair share of protecting the West.
Tillerson met many of the NATO foreign ministers in
Washington this week at a gathering of the coalition fighting
Islamic State militants, but the meeting in Brussels would be
his first formal NATO ministerial.
Given the U.S. role as the de facto head of the alliance, it
is rare for the United States' top diplomat to miss a NATO
meeting. The last time was during the Iraq war in 2003, when
Colin Powell was forced to cancel at the last moment.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Julia Glover)