Sunday 25 February 2018

Trump's pick for secretary of state is pro-Russian oil boss

Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson

Rachael Alexander in Washington

President-elect Donald Trump announced ExxonMobil boss Rex Tillerson as his choice for secretary of state yesterday, praising the business leader as a successful international dealmaker who has led a global operation.

Mr Tillerson's experience in diplomacy stems from making deals with foreign countries for the world's largest energy company, although questions have been raised about the oil executive's relations with Russia.

"He will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America's vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America's security and standing in the world," Mr Trump said.

Mr Tillerson said he shared Mr Trump's "vision for restoring the credibility of the United States' foreign relations and advancing our country's national security".

Mr Trump picked Mr Tillerson (64) after the Texan was backed by several Republican establishment figures including former secretaries of state James Baker and Condoleeza Rice and former defence secretary Robert Gates, a transition official said.

Their support is seen as key to helping him get past a possibly contentious Senate confirmation battle likely to focus on his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

In 2013, Mr Putin bestowed a Russian state honour, the Order of Friendship, on Mr Tillerson, citing his work "strengthening cooperation in the energy sector".

Mr Trump judged in making the selection that Mr Tillerson could adequately address questions about his relations with Russia, an official said.

Lawmakers from both major parties have raised questions about Mr Tillerson (pictured) and former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who has been mentioned as a possible No. 2 State Department official and who has voiced hawkish views on Iraq and Iran.

Separately, it is understood Mr Trump has chosen former Texas Governor Rick Perry as his nominee for energy secretary. Mr Perry met Mr Trump on Monday at Trump Tower in New York.

Republicans and Democrats said that Mr Tillerson would be asked about his contacts with Russia, having met Mr Putin several times.

He won fresh praise from Moscow this week.

"I have concerns. It's very well known that he has a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin," Senator John McCain, a leading foreign policy voice and the 2008 Republican candidate for president, said.

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There has been controversy over the role alleged Russian cyber hacking may have had on the outcome of the November 8 presidential election.

Mr Tillerson has close ties to Russia through years of deal-making that will serve as valuable experience - but also raise concerns.

He claimed to have a "very close relationship" with Mr Putin and would have deep knowledge of the country's power structure, having led ExxonMobil into a rare oil exploration deal with Russia's state-owned energy company.

His ties, however, could cast a shadow over important decisions on relations with Russia, from whether to extend sanctions to the handling of intelligence reports that Russia interfered with the US presidential election to help Trump.

The oil executive had previously argued against sanctions that the US and European allies imposed on Russia after it annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Experts said that if they remained in the long term, the sanctions could affect Exxon's joint venture with Russia's state oil company.

Mr Tillerson is a career Exxon employee, having joined the company after graduating from the University of Texas in 1975 with an engineering degree. Groomed for an executive position, he spent years in the rough-and-tumble world of oil production, working in Exxon's central US, Yemen and Russian operations.

By the 1990s, he was overseeing many of Exxon's foreign operations.

Mr Tillerson became Exxon's CEO on January 1, 2006, and is expected to retire next year.

In 2015, Exxon valued his compensation at $27.3m (€25.6m), most of it in stock.

At the end of 2015, he held awards that had not yet vested worth $149.2m (€140.2m).

As secretary of state he would be required to either sell his Exxon shares and stock options or recuse himself from government matters that had a "direct and predictable" effect on his financial interests, Richard Painter, a corporate law professor, said.    

Irish Independent

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