Rex Tillerson’s exit

Tillerson sounds warning about Russia

In his farewell remarks on Tuesday, outgoing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the prospect of talks with Mr Kim Jong Un was made possible by the hard work of his State Department and allies.
In his farewell remarks on Tuesday, outgoing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggested that the prospect of talks with Mr Kim Jong Un was made possible by the hard work of his State Department and allies.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Outgoing top diplomat says US must do more to respond to Moscow's troubling behaviour

WASHINGTON • Outgoing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned in his farewell remarks that Washington must do more to respond to Russia's "troubling behaviour and actions".

He said: "Russia must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interests of the Russian people, and of the world more broadly.

"Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part, a situation which is not in anyone's interest."

Mr Tillerson made these remarks at a press briefing on Tuesday after President Donald Trump announced that he would be replaced by current Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo.

In response, the Kremlin yes-terday said ties with the United States could not get any worse under Mr Pompeo.

"It is hardly possible to fall below the floor, so it is unlikely things will get any worse in this regard," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said at a regular press briefing, in response to a question about the high-level staff changes in the US administration.

"In any case there, of course, remains the hope of a constructive and sober approach to bilateral ties. There is always this hope."

During his tenure, Mr Tillerson was faced with an extraordinary array of foreign policy challenges - from North Korean nuclear threats to Russian intervention in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, to attacks on US diplomats in Cuba. But his efforts were often overshadowed by Mr Trump's decidedly undiplomatic style and streams of taunting tweets.

Mr Tillerson said on Tuesday he would remain at the department until March 31 to conclude the handover, but that Deputy Secretary John Sullivan would take charge.

His sacking caps a tumultuous tenure at the State Department.

The former Exxon chief had frequently been at odds with the mercurial US President. He was repeatedly forced to deny he had fallen out with Mr Trump, vowing to remain in his post despite a sensational report that he once dubbed the President a "moron".

During his tenure, Mr Tillerson was faced with an extraordinary array of foreign policy challenges - from North Korean nuclear threats to Russian intervention in Ukraine, Syria and Western elections, to attacks on US diplomats in Cuba. But his efforts were often overshadowed by Mr Trump's decidedly undiplomatic style and streams of taunting tweets.

At Tuesday's press briefing, Mr Tillerson, who returned overnight from a trip to Africa, did not address reports that he learnt of his sacking when Mr Trump tweeted the decision, saying only that he had since spoken to the President.

While Mr Trump thanked Mr Tillerson "for his service", he was sparing in his praise of the 65-year-old. Before leaving on a trip to California, he spoke openly of their differences as he explained the rationale for the latest departure from his chaotic White House.

Mr Trump said: "I wish Rex a lot of good things. I think Rex will be much happier now."

One of his most public clashes with Mr Tillerson came when the President accused him of "wasting his time" pursuing contacts with North Korea. But in his farewell remarks, Mr Tillerson suggested that the prospect of talks with Mr Kim Jong Un was made possible by the hard work of his State Department and allies. He also noted that it was he who had declared on his first trip to Asia as Secretary of State that the "era of strategic patience is over".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


Outgoing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson spoke at a press briefing on Tuesday after President Donald Trump announced that he would be replaced. Here are highlights: 

ON NORTH KOREA

Working with allies, we exceeded the expectations of almost everyone with the DPRK maximum pressure campaign. With the announcement on my very first trip as Secretary of State to the region that the era of strategic patience was over, and we commenced the steps to dramatically increase not just the scope but the effectiveness of the sanctions. The department undertook a global campaign to bring partners and allies on board in every country around the world, with every embassy and mission raising this to the highest levels. And at every meeting I have had throughout the year, this has been on the agenda to discuss.

ON CHINA

Much work remains to establish a clear view of the nature of our future relationship with China. How shall we deal with one another over the next 50 years and ensure a period of prosperity for all of our peoples, free of conflict between two very powerful nations?

ON SYRIA

In Syria, we did achieve important ceasefires and stabilisations, which we know has saved thousands of lives. There is more to be done in Syria, particularly with respect to achieving the peace, as well as stabilising Iraq and seeing a healthy government installed, and more broadly in the entire global campaign to defeat ISIS. Nothing is possible without allies and partners, though.

ON HIS DEPARTURE

I close by thanking all for the privilege of serving beside you for the last 14 months. Importantly, to the 300-plus million Americans, thank you for your devotion to a free and open society, to acts of kindness towards one another, to honesty, and the quiet hard work that you do every day to support this government with your tax dollars.

I will now return to private life as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I have had to serve my country. God bless all of you. God bless the American people. God bless America.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2018, with the headline 'Tillerson sounds warning about Russia'. Print Edition | Subscribe