Trump sacks Tillerson, says they disagreed on things

US Secretary of State fired in sudden move; CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace him

US President Donald Trump has long clashed with Mr Rex Tillerson (left), who he believes is "too establishment".
US President Donald Trump has long clashed with Mr Rex Tillerson (above), who he believes is "too establishment".

WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday after a series of public rifts over issues including North Korea and Russia, replacing his chief diplomat with loyalist CIA director Mike Pompeo.

The Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) deputy director Gina Haspel will succeed Mr Pompeo, becoming the first woman to lead the agency. Both appointments will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

The biggest shake-up of Mr Trump's Cabinet since he took office more than a year ago, which the President announced on Twitter, comes as the administration prepares for an unprecedented meeting with the leader of North Korea.

The President - who believes the 65-year-old former Exxon Mobil chief executive is "too establishment" in his thinking - felt it was important to make the change now, as he prepares for talks with Mr Kim Jong Un, as well as upcoming trade talks, White House officials said.

"We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things," Mr Trump told reporters later of his decision. "When you look at the Iran deal, I thought it was terrible, he thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something, he felt a little differently. So, we were not really thinking the same."

A senior White House official said Mr Trump asked Mr Tillerson to step down last Friday but did not want to make it public while the latter was on a trip to Africa.

However, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steven Goldstein said the Secretary of State "had every intention of staying" in his job, and was "unaware of the reason" for his firing.

Hours later, Mr Goldstein was fired, apparently for contradicting the White House version of events.

Mr Trump signalled that Mr Pompeo would bring skills needed to confront the challenges ahead. "He will continue our programme of restoring America's standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries and seeking the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," Mr Trump said.

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi criticised Mr Tillerson's dismissal, saying: "Whenever Tillerson's successor goes into meetings with foreign leaders, his credibility will be diminished as someone who could be here today and gone tomorrow."

Russia issued a mocking reaction to the surprise sacking, asking if the finger of blame was already being pointed at Moscow.

Hired for his business acumen and outsider's attitude, Mr Tillerson had initially earned Mr Trump's praise as a deal-maker who would champion his "America First" policy to the world. But after an early honeymoon, he appeared unable to maintain a bond with Mr Trump. The two repeatedly, and publicly, disagreed - on whether to stay in the Paris climate change accord, on how aggressively to back the embargo against Qatar led by Saudi Arabia and on whether to pursue a diplomatic solution to the North Korea crisis.

Speculation that Mr Tillerson was on his way out - so frequent that it was nicknamed "Rexit" - escalated last October when NBC News reported that Mr Tillerson had referred to Mr Trump in private as a "moron". Mr Tillerson scoffed at the report, although he left it to his spokesman to deny it.

While battling the White House, Mr Tillerson also faced dissent within the department he led.

Wall Street shrugged off the news of his replacement, but the US dollar fell against most currencies.



A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2018, with the headline 'Trump sacks Tillerson, says they disagreed on things'. Subscribe