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Tillerson Meets with Putin, but Neglects Mogherini

02.06.2017 17:15

Trans-Atlantic relations hit new lows after President Donald Trump’s gaffe-filled visit to Europe last week. At the same time, behind closed doors, the tensions started well before then and included a high-profile slight of a senior European Union official, the Foreign Policy reported.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s office declined a call with the EU’s foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, after his visit to Russia in April, according to multiple sources close to the incident. The sources told Foreign Policy that Tillerson’s office rejected Mogherini’s request for a call and instead kicked it down to a lower-level State Department official. That move infuriated her and came against the backdrop of an already strained U.S.-EU relationship under Trump.

Mogherini’s staff made the request to Tillerson’s office after a widely scrutinized visit to Moscow on April 11-12 to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and before her meeting with Lavrov in Moscow on April 24. Allies were eager for a brief out of the meeting directly from Tillerson, but he was unavailable to fulfill the request from Mogherini, multiple sources tell FP.

"It really pissed her off", one source said.

"This is like a total screw-up", another source close to the EU foreign-policy chief told FP. "This is not the way you treat Mogherini", source added.

Tillerson’s office instead offered her a meeting with Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning, sources say. Hook wields significant influence in Tillerson’s State Department, but he is several rungs lower on the hierarchy than the secretary of state. Mogherini declined the offer.

The situation is further complicated by the fact that though months into the new administration, the Trump White House hasn’t appointed officials to critical middle-management posts that oversee day-to-day relations with Europe, including the assistant secretary of state for Europe, ambassador to NATO, and ambassador to the EU. "That vacuum can cause routine diplomatic contacts", the source concluded.

It's important to remember that last week, Trump undertook a trip to Europe rife with tensions, including an awkward and widely criticized visit to NATO and a meeting with top EU officials in which European Council President Donald Tusk took the unusual step of publicly conceding he couldn’t find common ground with Trump on Russia.