Perpetual chaos within the Trump administration is apparently starting to take it’s toll on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, at least according to some anonymous sources, and has prompted rumors that he may depart his post before the end of the year. According to various media outlets, Tillerson has grown frustrated with his lack of autonomy, constant internal policy contradictions and public disputes between the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, among other things. Per Reuters:
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has told friends he will be lucky to last a year in his job, according to a friend, while two officials said national security adviser H.R. McMaster was frustrated by what he sees as disorganization and indiscipline on key policy issues inside the White House.
A source familiar with the situation told Reuters that Tillerson was “very upset at not having autonomy, independence and control over his own department and the ability to do the job the way the job … is traditionally done.”
The source said he had heard nothing about any possible departure, but added: “The situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and in some respects appears to be getting worse.”
According to CNN‘s anonymous sources, Tillerson has told friends outside of Washington that he’d like to remain in his post through the end of the year though those same sources question whether another 5 months will be possible.
For weeks, conversations with Tillerson friends outside of Washington have left the impression that he, despite his frustrations, was determined to stay on the job at least through the end of the year. That would allow time to continue efforts to reorganize the State Department and would mean he could claim to have put in a year as America’s top diplomat.
But two sources who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity over the weekend said they would not be surprised if there was a “Rexit” from Foggy Bottom sooner that that.
Both of these sources are familiar with Tillerson conversations with friends outside Washington. Both said there was a noticeable increase in the secretary’s frustration and his doubts that the tug-of-war with the White House would subside anytime soon. They also acknowledged it could have been venting after a tough week, a suggestion several DC-based sources made when asked if they saw evidence Tillerson was looking for an exit strategy.
Of course, Tillerson recently suffered an embarrassing contradiction from the White House over Qatar. Following last month’s move by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to boycott Qatar, which they accuse of financing extremist groups and supporting terrorism, Tillerson publicly asked the nations to ease their blockade, and put the onus on both sides to end the crisis.
Unfortunately, less than 90 minutes later, Trump accused Qatar of being a “high level” sponsor of terrorism in a press conference and suggested he had helped plan the Qatar action with Arab leaders.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters, Tillerson has also grown increasingly frustrated over internal criticisms surrounding the Iran deal.
Tillerson scored a policy win last week when the administration certified, albeit reluctantly, that Iran was complying with the 2015 nuclear deal under which Tehran agreed to restrain its atomic program in exchange for sanctions relief.
He was upset, however, by fierce internal criticism from Trump, as well as his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and White House aide Sebastian Gorka, over the decision, said another U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“The secretary does not feel that White House staff members should be in a position to conduct hostile cross-(examinations) of Cabinet officials,” the official said.
Hammond disputed the account of harsh discord between Trump and Tillerson regarding recertifying the Iran nuclear deal, saying: “I don’t buy this whole thing that there are tensions. Developing public policy is about vetting out ideas,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Tillerson’s spokesman has so far denied that the Secretary of State is considering an early exit…
R.C. Hammond, Tillerson’s spokesman, denied Tillerson was considering leaving or that his frustrations were boiling over, saying he had “plenty of reasons to stay on the job, and all of them are important to America.”
“There’s a desperate need for American leadership in the world and that’s where the secretary’s focusing his attention,” he said.
…so what say you? Fake news or is Tillerson in a race with Sessions to see who will exit their post first?
Amid attempts to “clarify areas of sharp difference,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov blasted the Trump administration’s “ambiguous and contradictory” foreign policy at the start of talks with Tillerson in Moscow Wednesday calling the demand for the Kremlin to abandon Assad “absurd.” Furthermore, he warned Tillerson that Russia “believes it’s fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again.”
Russia pushed back against demands that it abandon Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad over a chemical-weapons attack as Bloomberg reports that the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin is likely to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Putin complained that relations with the U.S. are worse than under President Barack Obama, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov criticized the Trump administration’s “ambiguous and contradictory” foreign policy at the start of talks with Tillerson in Moscow Wednesday.
Trust between Russia and the U.S. under Trump “at the working level, especially at the military level, hasn’t improved; rather it’s deteriorated,” Putin said, according to a Kremlin transcript published Wednesday of an interview with the Mir TV channel.
There’s a “probability” that Putin and Tillerson will meet if the talks between the two top diplomats show a need to “report to the head of state,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call. It’s “quite absurd” to demand that Russia abandon Assad as this would mean ending support for his forces that are fighting against Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Syria, Peskov said.In remarks before a closed-door session,
as The Wall Street Journal reports, Mr. Lavrov appeared to warn Washington not to strike Syria again.
Mr. Lavrov described the U.S. missile attack last week on a Syrian air base? as “an unlawful attack against Syria,” adding:
“We believe it’s fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again.”
?It was unclear whether Mr. Lavrov was referring to the U.S. strike on Friday or to what Russia says were rebel stockpiles of chemical weapons that were hit by Syrian government aircraft several days earlier in a town in Idlib province, killing at least 85 people and exposing hundreds of others to a toxic gas.
The Moscow meeting will “further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what prospects for narrowing those differences may be,” Tillerson told Lavrov.
“Putin has built his reputation on never conceding to any public pressure,” said Gleb Kuznetsov, a political expert and consultant to the Kremlin on domestic policies. “An ultimatum will lead to Putin strengthening his support for Assad and this will intensify the Syrian conflict, turning it into a conflict between the West and Russia.”
Trust between Russia and the US has collapsed under the Trump administration, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated on Wednesday, as Moscow delivered an unusually frigid if not hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria, shortly after Putin said the recent chemical attack was a staged “false flag” and predicted that more are coming, while at the same time the US accused Russia of a gas attack “cover up.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Putin said that if Donald Trump had intended to bring about a thaw in US relations with Russia, he has failed to see this intention through.
“One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated,” Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television moments after Tillerson sat down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an ornate hall. Putin doubled down on Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad’s government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad’s enemies.
Moments earlier, Lavrov greeted Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.
Quoted by Reuters, Lavrod said that “I won’t hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs. And of course, that’s not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken.”
Lavrov also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office – a point of sensitivity in Washington.
Just as Tillerson sat down for talks, a senior Russian official assailed the “primitiveness and loutishness” of U.S. rhetoric, part of a volley of statements that appeared timed to maximize the awkwardness during the first visit by a member of Trump’s cabinet.
“In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington. We’ll hope that this doesn’t become the substance of American policy,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency.”As a whole, the administration’s stance with regards to Syria remains a mystery. Inconsistency is what comes to mind first of all.”
Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was “to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be.” “I look forward to a very open, candid, frank exchange so that we can better define the U.S.-Russian relationship from this point forward,” he told Lavrov.
After journalists were ushered out of the room, Lavrov’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her Facebook page that U.S. journalists traveling with Tillerson had behaved as if they were in a “bazaar” by shouting questions to Lavrov. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tillerson might meet Putin later on Wednesday if the two top diplomats decided it would be useful to brief the Russian president on their talks. But Peskov too did not hold back his criticism, saying calls from Western powers for Russia to cut support for Assad amounted to giving terrorists a free hand.
Moscow’s hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was consistently full of effusive praise for him. Trump’s repeated claims that he could mend relations between Washington and Moscow has fueled accusations that he secretly colluded with Russia to win the US presidential election last year. His administration is currently under a congressional investigation over alleged ties with Russia.
Some have even gone so far to suggest that Trump’s entire Syria operation has been staged – in cooperation with Russia – to deflect attention from his proximity toward Russia, making it appear that he and Putin remain foes. Judging by the complete disappearance of stories involving Trump being manipulated by Russia over the past week, if indeed this was the strategy, it has succeeded.
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Meanwhile, Moscow has has stood by Assad, defying western demands to cut loose with the Syrian leader, saying the poison gas belonged to rebels, an explanation Washington dismisses as beyond credible. Putin said that either gas belonging to the rebels was released when it was hit by a Syrian strike on a rebel arms dump, or the rebels faked the incident to discredit Assad.
Tillerson traveled to Moscow with a joint message from Western powers that Russia should withdraw its support for Assad after a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies also attended by Middle East allies.
Overnight, in an interview with the Fox Business Network, Trump said he was not planning to order U.S. forces into Syria, but that he had to respond to the images of dead children poisoned in the gas attack. “We’re not going into Syria,” he said in excerpts of the interview on the station’s website. “But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons … and see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father’s arms, or you see kids gasping for life … when you see that, I immediately called (Defense Secretary) General Mattis.”
Putin and Trump are yet to meet face to face to discuss the tensions between Russia and the US. A meeting of the two leaders has not been scheduled so far, even though Moscow has indicated it is willing.
Having recently waded into the Russia-NATO axis scandal, when as Reuters first reported on Monday Rex Tillerson planned to skip the April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers despite flying a week later to Russia, which as Reuters said is “a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs”, only to reverse his decision last night, and offer NATO several “conflict-free” dates which could work for an upcoming meeting (NATO has yet to respond), attention has turned this morning to an interview Tillerson gave to the IJR, in which the former Exxon CEO appears to be expressing some reluctance about his current posting.
In the interview, Tillerson said the job of secretary of State wasn’t a role he actually sought out.
“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review in an interview during his recent Asia trip.
So why did he take the job? As the Hill points out, when asked why he agreed to take on the position of secretary of State, Tillerson said his wife “told me I’m supposed to do this.”
During the interview Tillerson said he had never met President Trump before the election. After his victory, the president wanted to talk with Tillerson “about the world.”
“When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of State, I was stunned,” Tillerson said. Tillerson later told his wife about the offer.
“I told you God’s not through with you,” he said his wife told him. The former ExxonMobil CEO added: “I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.”
Tillerson also said he serves at the “pleasure of the president.”
“My wife convinced me,” he said. “She was right. I’m supposed to do this.” Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of State in February, despite a late effort by Democrats to slow down the nomination.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state by a vote of 11-10 – falling along party lines (with Democrats dissenting). As Bloomberg notes, this vote clears the way for the full Senate to confirm one of President Donald Trump’s most critical cabinet choices.
Before the vote on Monday, Democrats also said they were concerned about Tillerson’s statement that he would recuse himself from matters related to Exxon during his first year as secretary and rely on guidance from the State Department’s ethics office after that.
“In the end, I just had too many concerns and questions about the kind of leadership he would provide at the state department to feel comfortable voting for him,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat.
The 11-10 vote came hours after Senator Marco Rubio, who had been the lone Republican withholding his support, said he would back the nomination of the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive officer as the nation’s top diplomat despite concerns over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his refusal in his nomination hearing to condemn human rights abuses in Russia and the Philippines. As The Hill reports,
“I concluded that it would not be good for our country to unnecessarily delay or created unwarranted political controversy over this particular nomination,” Rubio told the panel at the Monday meeting.
“My concern was that Mr. Tillerson would be an advocate for and would pursue a foreign policy of dealmaking at the expense of traditional alliances and at the expense of the defense of human rights and of democracy,” he said, which he weigh against positive answers from Tillerson on issues like Cuba and supporting armament for Ukraine against Russia.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chairman, said that Tillerson had “no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified.”
“He has managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue, with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world,” Corker said.
Two key GOP senators who have been concerned about Russia and Putin, Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.), also announced in recent days that they would support Tillerson.
Tillerson will now face a vote in the full Senate, where he is nearly certain to get the majority vote that he needs to become the United States’ top diplomat.