Wednesday 13 December 2017

Secretary of state favourite Tillerson is 'Putin pal'

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil
Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil

Nick Allen

US Republicans have rounded on Donald Trump's likely choice for US secretary of state, accusing oil executive Rex Tillerson of being too close to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Mr Tillerson (64) has emerged as the leading contender to become America's top diplomat, with Mr Trump said to be "very close" to offering him the job. But senior Republicans suggested that the potential appointment of the Exxon Mobile chief executive, who was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship, might be blocked in the US Senate.

Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, said: "Being a 'friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for from a secretary of state."

Senator John McCain, the former Republican presidential nominee, said: "I don't know what Mr Tillerson's relationship with Vladimir Putin was but, I'll tell you, it is a matter of concern to me. Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer."

Asked about Mr Tillerson yesterday, the president-elect said: "A great advantage is he knows many of the players and he knows them well. He does massive deals in Russia."

Later, Mr Trump said on Twitter: "Whether I choose him or not Rex Tillerson is a world-class player and dealmaker. Stay tuned!"

The choice of Mr Tillerson would further swell the ranks of Mr Trump's cabinet with people who favour a soft line on Moscow. Other Trump appointments being seen as pro-Russian include that of General Michael Flynn as national security adviser. He sat next to Mr Putin at a banquet in Moscow last year. Mr Tillerson "probably knows Putin personally better than any American I can think of," said Ian Bremmer, from the Eurasia Group analysts.

Mr Tillerson has driven Exxon's Mobile's expansion in Russia for decades and opposed US sanctions imposed on Russia for its seizure of Crimea.

Mark Salter, a former aide to Mr McCain, said: "Tillerson would sell out Nato for his pal Vlad." (© Daily Telegraph London)

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