Exxon chief 'top choice' for US secretary of state

Mr Tillerson was strongly recommended by a number of business leaders.
Mr Tillerson was strongly recommended by a number of business leaders.

Rex Tillerson has experience working with foreign leaders

GRAND RAPIDS (Michigan) • Mr Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's president and chief executive, has emerged as US President-elect Donald Trump's top choice to become secretary of state, according to a person with direct knowledge of the search process.

The news is the latest turn in what has become the most extended drama of Mr Trump's transition effort, with a rotating cast of seeming front runners to become America's top diplomat. Choosing Mr Tillerson would add to a long list of wealthy businesspeople in high-ranking Trump administration posts.

As Exxon's top official, Mr Tillerson, 64, has extensive experience working with foreign leaders. Some of his foreign relationships, especially those with Russia, could come under particular scrutiny during a Senate confirmation hearing.

Mr Tillerson, who met Mr Trump in New York last Tuesday, has been strongly recommended by a number of business leaders. It is unclear when Mr Trump expects to announce his choice for the job.

Mr Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, has been described by Mr Trump's advisers as still in the running. But Mr Trump has privately said conflicting things on his views of Mr Romney, advisers said, and has indicated to several people that he is unlikely to be named.

Mr Tillerson has worked to strengthen Exxon Mobil's ties with Russia. The company has various joint ventures with the oil giant Rosneft around Russia, and has contributed to social programmes in education and health. In 2012, the Russian government awarded Mr Tillerson the country's Order of Friendship decoration.

Western sanctions against Russia prohibiting the nation from certain energy development activities have slowed Exxon Mobil's investments, particularly a joint venture with Rosneft that was supposed to start drilling for oil in the Kara Sea in 2014. Mr Tillerson has spoken out against the sanctions, in part because Exxon Mobil is unable to collect revenues from an investment in an oil and gas consortium that operates off Sakhalin Island.

Mr Tillerson assumed the role of chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil on Jan 1, 2006. During his tenure, the company has acknowledged the science underlying climate change and said it supports a carbon tax. It has also expressed support for the Paris climate agreement.

"We believe that addressing the risk of climate change is a global issue," Mr Tillerson said at the company's annual shareholder meeting in May, adding that it would require the cooperation of governments, business and individuals.

In contrast, Mr Trump has called climate change a hoax created by the Chinese for business reasons, and has named a climate change denier, Mr Scott Pruitt, the Attorney-General of Oklahoma, as his choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

Separately, Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the highest-ranking woman in the House Republican leadership, is expected to be chosen as Mr Trump's secretary of the interior, two people close to the transition efforts said.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Exxon chief 'top choice' for US secretary of state'. Print Edition | Subscribe