Donald Trump ousts secretary of state Rex Tillerson
President appoints Mike Pompeo and says former secretary will be ‘much happier now’
US president Donald Trump has fired secretary of state Rex Tillerson after a series of public rifts over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran. Mr Trump has replaced his chief diplomat with loyalist CIA director Mike Pompeo.
The biggest shakeup of Trump’s Cabinet since he took office in January 2017 was announced by the president on Twitter as his administration works toward a meeting with the leader of North Korea.
Mr Trump said he made the decision to sack Mr Tillerson “by myself” and that his former secretary of state will be “much happier now” .
Mr Tillerson on Tuesday evening said he would leave the role on March 31st and that he was delegating all of his responsibilities to the State Department’s number two official.
“What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges,” he told reporters at the State Department.
He said he received a phone call at around noon from Mr Trump, who was on Air Force One, and that he had also spoken with White House chief of staff John Kelly.
Some foreign policy experts criticised the decision to swap out top diplomats so soon before the unprecedented meeting and said they were worried that Mr Pompeo would encourage Mr Trump to kill the Iran nuclear deal and be hawkish on North Korea.
Mr Trump chose the CIA’s deputy director, Gina Haspel, to replace Mr Pompeo at the intelligence agency. She is a veteran CIA clandestine officer backed by many in the US intelligence community but regarded warily by some in Congress for her involvement in the agency’s ‘black site’ detention facilities.
Mr Tillerson’s departure capped months of friction between him and the Republican president. The tensions peaked last autumn amid reports that Mr Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” and considered resigning.
“We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things,” Mr Trump said on the White House lawn on Tuesday. “When you look at the Iran deal: I think it’s terrible, I guess he thinks it was OK. I wanted to break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently.”
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
Mr Trump said he and Mr Pompeo have “a similar thought process.”
Mr Pompeo, a former Army officer who represented a Kansas district in Congress before taking the CIA job, is seen as a Trump loyalist who has enjoyed a less hostile relationship with career spies than Mr Tillerson had with career diplomats.
Senior White House officials said Mr Trump wanted his new team in place before any summit with Kim Jong un, who invited the US president to meet by May after months of escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Mr Tillerson’s departure had been rumored for several months and Mr Trump said he and Tillerson had discussed the move for a long time. But Steve Goldstein, a State Department undersecretary of state for public affairs, said Mr Tillerson did not know why he was being pushed out and had intended to stay.
Mr Goldstein was fired later on Tuesday, two US officials told Reuters.
Many Democrats in Congress expressed dismay at the firing, which they said would sow more instability in the Trump administration at a crucial time.
Senior White House officials said Mr Kelly had asked Mr Tillerson to step down on Friday but did not want to make it public while he was on a trip to Africa. Mr Trump’s Twitter announcement came only a few hours after Mr Tillerson landed in Washington.
In one of his last acts in the job, Mr Tillerson on Monday blamed Russia for the poisonings in England of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Earlier at the White House, press secretary Sarah Sanders had refrained from saying Moscow was responsible.
He appeared to be caught by surprise last week when Mr Trump announced he had accepted Mr Kim’s invitation to meet.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” Trump said on Twitter.
Mr Tillerson joined a long list of senior officials who have either resigned or been fired since Mr Trump took office in January 2017. Others include strategist Steve Bannon, national security adviser Michael Flynn, FBI director James Comey, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, health secretary Tom Price, communications directors Hope Hicks and Anthony Scaramucci, economic adviser Gary Cohn and press secretary Sean Spicer.
Mr Trump publicly undercut Mr Tillerson’s diplomatic initiatives numerous times.
In December, Mr Tillerson had offered to begin direct talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, backing away from a US demand that Pyongyang must accept that any negotiations would be about giving up its nuclear arsenal.
The White House distanced itself from those remarks, and a few days later, Mr Tillerson himself backed off.
Several months earlier in Beijing, Tillerson said the United States was directly communicating with North Korea but that Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialogue. Trump contradicted Tillerson’s efforts a day later.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, using a pejorative nickname for Kim.
Mr Tillerson had joined defence secretary Jim Mattis in pressing a sceptical Trump to stick with the agreement with Iran and other world powers over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and he has taken a more hawkish view than Mr Trump on Russia.
If confirmed by the US Senate after an April committee hearing, Mr Pompeo will be taking over a State Department shaken by the departures of many senior diplomats and embittered by proposed budget cuts.
Mr Tillerson faced a tougher confirmation that most nominees to be secretary of state last year as Democrats grilled him about his oil business ties to Russia. But over time, many lawmakers grew to appreciate him as a relatively steady hand in the chaotic Trump administration.
“He represented a stable view with regard to the implementation of diplomacy in North Korea, Iran and other places in the world,” said Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during most of Mr Tillerson’s tenure. - Reuters