Donald Trump sacked Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state on Tuesday following months of clashes over foreign policy between the president and the former ExxonMobil chief executive.
The president tweeted on Tuesday morning that Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, would be the new secretary of state, predicting he would do a “fantastic job”. He added that Gina Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, would become the new director of the agency.
Mr Trump told reporters: “I think Rex will be much happier now. With Mike Pompeo we have a very good chemistry. “[With Tillerson] It was a different mindset. It was a different thinking.”
Mr Tillerson’s ousting adds to the churn at the highest ranks in the Trump administration, coming less than a week after Gary Cohn resigned as director of the National Economic Council after losing a battle over Mr Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium imports. It comes at a critical time for US diplomacy as Mr Trump prepares to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid a backdrop of repeated threats between the two leaders and heightened tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
The administration is also wresting with how to respond to allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election campaign, and whether to withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran.
The president said that, although the two men got along personally, he had several areas of disagreement with Mr Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Trump said he was confident that Mr Pompeo is “the right person for the job at this critical juncture” and that he will continue the administration’s programme of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening alliances, confronting adversaries, and seeking the de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
A spokesman for Mr Tillerson said the former oil executive had had “every intention of staying” in his post, citing critical progress in national security, and had not discussed his firing with Mr Trump. “The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason,” said Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, who had sought to boost Mr Tillerson’s public profile.
Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr Tillerson had entered the job with a major liability — namely he lacked a previous relationship with the president. “The deck was stacked against him from the start,” he said. “He and Tillerson were not on the same page, either personally or politically.”
By contrast, Mr Pompeo has been working with the president for a year at the CIA, which could help him establish himself at the state department. “Tillerson never bonded with his department,” Mr Haass added.
Mr Tillerson had spent months attempting to craft a relationship from scratch with a president whom he met for the first time during an ad hoc interview after the 2016 presidential election. The secretary of state also faced rivalries with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and national security adviser HR McMaster, and dissent from his own ranks as he pursued a reform programme that included unpopular cuts to the state department.
Mr Tillerson, who rose through the ranks of Exxon to become its chief executive over a 41-year career with the company, was widely seen as instrumental in leading the administration’s diplomatic pressure campaign on North Korea, encouraging countries to go beyond tough global sanctions he helped introduce at the United Nations.
But Mr Trump has also regularly tweeted his dissatisfaction with his secretary of state, telling him last year he was “wasting his time” attempting to negotiate with Mr Kim.
In recent days, Mr Tillerson appeared to distance himself from Mr Trump’s historic decision to hold talks with the North Korean leader, framing it as “a decision the president took himself”.
Mr Tillerson, who cut short a working trip to Africa, landed back in Washington early on Tuesday, just hours before Mr Trump made the announcement of his departure.
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