WASHINGTON — Mark Esper will spend his first week as acting secretary of defense in Belgium.

Late Wednesday evening, the Pentagon announced that Esper, who was tapped this week to replace Patrick Shanahan as the department’s top official, will travel to NATO for next week’s defense ministerial.

“As previously announced, Secretary of the Army, Dr. Mark Esper, will become the Acting Secretary of Defense on Monday, June 24 at 12:01 a.m. He will travel to the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium later that week,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman wrote in a statement.

Shanahan had been planning to go to the meeting, a semi-regular gathering of the alliance defense ministers, before the shocking Tuesday announcement that he would be leaving the Pentagon following the surprise revelation of family domestic abuse issues.

But there had been speculation that Esper, the current secretary of the Army, would skip the meeting in favor of another defense official, perhaps Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist or Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood.

Hoffman said that the focus of the meetings will be “reinforcing the U.S. commitment to strengthening the NATO Alliance, ensuring more equitable burden sharing, bolstering NATO readiness and addressing regional security issues.”

Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.

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