Tue, 16 Oct 2018

Tillerson fired, Pompeo to take over as Secretary of State

By Sheetal Sukhija, Washington State News
14 Mar 2018, 08:12 GMT+10

WASHINGTON, U.S. - In what came as yet another notable change in U.S. President Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, the country’s top diplomat, the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired from his post.

Trump replaced Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a move he announced on Twitter. 

According to a senior State Department official, Tillerson learned he had been fired on Tuesday morning when a top aide showed him Trump’s tweet announcing the change.

The move also came as an extension of a shake-up of his administration that Trump has been mulling for a while.

Earlier this year, when reports speculated Tillerson’s ouster, some top aides said that the friction between the President and the nation's top diplomat will soon result in the three words Trump loves to use ‘You are fired.’

Calling the reports ‘Fake News,’ Trump simply stifled the leaks that stated he was on the verge of sacking or forcing out Tillerson.

The Secretary of State himself too had brushed off the leaks as "laughable."

At the time, media reports said that Trump has a plan to replace his embattled secretary of state with the former U.S. congressman who heads the Central Intelligence Agency, Pompeo.

Tillerson's relationship with Trump has been strained by the top U.S. diplomat's softer line on some of the biggest international crises - including threat posed by North Korea and the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.

Trump and Tillerson also disagreed on America’s Afghanistan strategy, which was discussed in the July 2017 Pentagon meeting.

Eventually, Trump was persuaded by Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis to maintain the United States’ presence in the region. 

Tillerson however, insisted each time that he has a strong working relationship with the president and even said, “I call the president ‘Mr. President.’ He and I have a very, very open, frank and candid relationship. We have a very open exchange of views on policy.”

Tillerson even stressed, ”At the end of the day, he makes decisions. I go out and do the best I can to execute those decisions successfully. He has assembled a very, I think, unconventional team. He himself is an unconventional president. He’s assembled an unconventional Cabinet. I’m an unconventional pick for secretary of state.”

Then, in October last year, things got worse as a report revealed that Tillerson had called the president a "moron,” after a tense meeting at the Pentagon during which the national security team spoke to Trump and stressed the need for a robust American presence around the globe.

Tillerson responded to the report saying, “I’m not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff. As I said, I’m not playing. I’m not making a game out of it. I’m not dignifying the question with an answer.”

But as the controversy grew, Tillerson was forced to hold a press conference, during which he pledged fealty to Trump but did not deny using the word. 

The reports further infuriated Trump, who is said to have privately bashed his Secretary of State to associates and publicly challenged Tillerson to an IQ test.

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Trump said, “And I can tell you who is going to win.” 

Further White House officials said that Trump is irked by Tillerson’s advocacy of staying in both the Paris climate deal and the Iran nuclear pact, and has complained to associates that he does not like how Tillerson candidly voices his disapproval to the president in meetings.

Tillerson, meanwhile, is believed to have grown weary of Trump contradicting his public pronouncements and of becoming increasingly isolated in the capital.

Tillerson’s ouster now is set to potentially transform the nation’s economic and foreign policy.

Trump announced he would replace Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, who has managed to forge a close relationship with the president and is viewed as being more in sync with Trump’s America First credo.

Tillerson said on Tuesday that he planned to immediately step aside from his post, turning over all responsibilities by the end of the day to John Sullivan, the deputy secretary of state.

Addressing reporters soon after, Tillerson made a short statement, saying he would end his service at midnight on March 31, but was encouraging his policy planning team and under secretaries and assistant secretaries “to remain in their posts and continue in our mission at the State Department.”

Tillerson added, “I’ll now return to private life, as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I had to serve my country.”

According to insiders, Tillerson’s firing caught even the White House staff by surprise.

However, a senior administration official was quoted as saying that Trump decided to replace Tillerson now to have a new team in place before upcoming talks with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he plans to meet by May. 

The president also reportedly wanted a new chief diplomat for various ongoing trade negotiations.

Reports also noted that Tillerson’s inner circle too was targeted in the latest purge, with the under secretary of state for public affairs, Steve Goldstein, also being fired.

The status of Tillerson’s chief of staff, Margaret Peterlin, and his deputy chief of staff, Christine Ciccone however, remains unclear.

Meanwhile, at the CIA, Pompeo is set to be replaced by the current deputy director, Gina Haspel, who will be the first woman to head the spy agency. 

However, both Haspel and Pompeo would need confirmation by the Senate to take the positions.

Trump said in a written statement on Tuesday that Pompeo “has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community.”

He added, “I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture. He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

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