Tuesday 17 September 2019

Chief US diplomat Rex Tillerson calls Donald Trump 'a moron'

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday he never considered resigning and that he was as committed to President Donald Trump's agenda as much today as he was when he first accepted the offer to serve as the nation's chief diplomat.

"I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said at the State Department. "I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives.

"My commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state," Tillerson said.

Tillerson spoke after NBC News reported that Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials intervened to persuade him not to resign during the summer as tensions rose between Trump and Tillerson.

Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson over the weekend when the president tweeted that he told him that he was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson's tenure has been dogged with rumors about unhappiness with Trump's policies and rhetoric, but the secretary of state on Wednesday offered a vigorous defence of both the U.S. president and his foreign policy.

"President Trump's foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country. We're finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories, Tillerson said.

Shortly before Tillerson spoke, Trump tweeted:

"NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!"

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has played down any tensions between Trump and Tillerson over their apparent split, most recently over North Korea.

In a session with Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials at the Pentagon, Tillerson openly criticised the president and called him a "moron," NBC reported, citing three officials familiar with the incident.

Tillerson, who said he had not spoken to Trump on Wednesday, sidestepped the issue when taking questions after his statement:

"I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that," he said "... This is what I don't understand about Washington ... I'm not from this place, but the places I come from we don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense. And it is intended to do nothing but divide people, and I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."

Tillerson's insistence that he completely supports Trump's agenda runs counter to what some administration officials have privately described as the secretary of state chafing against some of the president's pronouncements and off-the-cuff decisions, sometimes contrary to advice from his senior advisers.

“I’m not sure this could be described as a hostage video but in many respects this was a stunning and unprecedented statement by a secretary of state in response to a news report about his comments about the president,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for both Republican and Democratic administrations and now an analyst at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.


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