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Trump ousts Tillerson, will replace him as secretary of state with CIA chief Pompeo


March 13. 2018 11:41AM
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was asked to step aside Friday by Presidents Donald Trump, according to the Washington Post. The embattled top diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington. (REUTERS/File)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday after a series of public rifts over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran, replacing his chief diplomat with loyalist CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The shakeup was announced by the President on Twitter as his administration works toward a potential meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un after months of rhetoric and rising tensions on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The firing capped months of friction between Trump and the 65-year-old former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive. The tensions peaked last fall amid reports Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” and considered resigning. Tillerson never denied using the word.

Critics expressed dismay at the decision to swap out top diplomats so soon before the unprecedented meeting and worried that Pompeo would encourage Trump to scrap the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and be hawkish on North Korea.

Trump announced the changes in a morning Twitter post and later told reporters more about why he removed Tillerson.

“We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things,” Trump said. “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.”

At the State Department, a visibly emotional Tillerson said Trump called him around noon from Air Force One, hours after he was summarily dismissed via Twitter. Tillerson also spoke with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

He said his tenure ends on March 31 but he would delegate his responsibilities to John Sullivan, deputy secretary of state.

“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,” Tillerson told reporters in a packed briefing room.

Trump said he and Pompeo have “a similar thought process.”

Pompeo is a former Army officer who represented a Kansas district in the House of Representatives before taking the Central Intelligence Agency job. Trump chose the CIA’s deputy director, Gina Haspel, to replace Pompeo there. 

Senior White House officials said Trump wanted his new team in place before any summit with Kim, who invited the President to meet by May after months of escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Foreign policy experts from Republican and Democratic administrations questioned Trump’s timing and choice, noting that Pompeo was known as a political partisan with hawkish views.

Evans Revere, a former senior U.S. diplomat who dealt with North Korea under President George W. Bush, said Trump’s move sends “a bad signal about the role of diplomacy.”

“Tillerson’s replacement by ... Pompeo, who is known as a political partisan and an opponent of the Iran agreement, raises the prospect of the collapse of that deal, and increases the possibility that the administration might soon face not one, but two nuclear crises,” he said.

Senior White House officials said Chief of Staff Kelly had asked Tillerson to step down on Friday but did not want to make it public while he was on a trip to Africa. Trump’s Twitter announcement came only a few hours after Tillerson, who cut his trip to Africa short, landed in Washington.

Trump publicly undercut Tillerson’s diplomatic initiatives numerous times.

Last year Tillerson said the United States was directly communicating with North Korea but that Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialog. 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,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Tillerson had emerged as a vocal critic on Russia — for its role in the annexation of Crimea, support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and alleged meddling in the U.S. election. 

He also singled out Russia for its apparent role in the Soviet-era nerve weapon used to poison a former Russian double agent in Britain, a position that initially diverged from the White House.


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