Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is having a bit of a rough first official trip abroad to Bonn, Germany, for a session with foreign ministers from the G20 countries. He had an uncomfortable introduction with his Russian counterpart. And during his meeting with U.K. foreign minister Boris Johnson, Tillerson responded to a question about Trump’s immigration and refugee policies with total silence. Johnson finally broke the awkwardness with a quip: “Good try.”
And then there are his lodgings. Tillerson was apparently late to RSVP for this G20 meeting, and by the time he did, the Bonn hotels were booked solid. Instead, America’s top diplomat is staying at a sanitarium. The clinic and spa is in a German village about 30 minutes (20 miles) outside Bonn and is next to a public bathhouse. The accommodations have caused some commuting headaches — Johnson reportedly had to trek out to meet Tillerson there — and definitely made for an odd scene. As Bloomberg reports, “Diplomatic security agents mingled in the parking lot with elderly people in wheelchairs arriving for spa treatments.”
Tillerson’s stay on the outskirts of the G20 is somewhat symbolic of his first diplomatic journey. He appears to be adjusting still to the job, and since he doesn’t have his State Department staff fully in place, is traveling with a small team, many of them Obama–era holdovers. So far, he has largely remained on the sidelines, which isn’t helping already tentative allies who are still trying to get a read on the Trump administration. Tillerson gave a short statement after meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov — his first public address since he was sworn in earlier this month. He took no questions from the press.
Tillerson does have a jam-packed schedule; in addition to meeting with the foreign ministers from Russia and the U.K., he has sessions with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Oman, and Italy. He will also be in “listening mode” during discussions on Syria and Yemen. And it just might take some time for the former Exxon CEO to adjust to life as a lowly civil servant. As Tillerson told the Saudi Foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, his trip into Bonn Wednesday night wasn’t ideal. “I’m not used to traveling like that, you know,” he said. “I’m used to getting on at night, spending the night on the plane, and then going to work. It’s quite civilized.”