BRUSSELS -- NATO diplomats say a meeting of alliance foreign ministers originally scheduled for April 5-6 is now tentatively planned for March 31, when U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be in Brussels.
The U.S. State Department announced on March 24 that Tillerson would visit NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 31, the day after he meets in Ankara with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
NATO diplomats on March 25 told RFE/RL that foreign ministers from other alliance countries were working to accommodate Tillerson's schedule after Washington announced he would not attend the April meeting because of a scheduling conflict.
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (Republican-Wisconsin) said during a visit to Brussels on March 25 that Tillerson and other NATO ministers "have worked out the dates."
But NATO diplomats in Brussels told RFE/RL on March 25 that "consultations on scheduling among allies are ongoing."
One NATO diplomat told RFE/RL that many foreign ministers already had previous commitments and would have to rearrange their schedules in order to attend a March 31 meeting.
Another NATO diplomat told AFP on March 25 that bringing all of the foreign ministers together on March 31 could be complicated by the agenda of British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who may not be able to visit Brussels that day.
NATO members have until March 27 to work out the details of their plans.
NATO sources told RFE/RL that the conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatist fighters would be high on the agenda the next time NATO foreign ministers meet.
U.S. Senator John McCain, a Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said during a visit to Brussels on March 25 that the United States should start "supplying lethal defensive weapons" to Ukraine.
McCain said Russian President Vladimir Putin "has stepped up his aggression in Ukraine" and that "Ukrainians are dying" as a result.
"We need to give them weapons with which to defend themselves," McCain said.
He said the "first priority for Ukraine" should be to deliver weapons like man-portable Javelin antitank missiles, weapon-tracking radar that can detect artillery projectiles, and "other capabilities because right now they are outgunned" by the Russian weaponry of "so-called separatists."
Tillerson's decision to skip the April 5-6 meeting, his first opportunity to meet with foreign ministers from all 27 other NATO countries, raised concerns from some European officials about the U.S. administration’s commitment to the alliance -- particularly since Tillerson plans to visit Moscow shortly after that.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to visit President Donald Trump in early April, and it has been suggested that Tillerson would remain in the United States to attend their talks.
But Tillerson's office has not confirmed that meeting.
NATO Ministers Tentatively Plan Brussels Meeting With Tillerson