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Monday 21 January 2019

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson 'never considered stepping down'

There were reports of tensions between Mr Tillerson and Donald Trump (AP)
There were reports of tensions between Mr Tillerson and Donald Trump (AP)

Rex Tillerson said he has never considered stepping down as US secretary of state.

America's top diplomat said that reports suggesting otherwise are "erroneous".

Mr Tillerson delivered a statement after NBC News reported the former Exxon Mobil CEO had been on the verge of resigning this summer amid mounting policy disputes with the White House.

NBC said the tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump gave a politicised speech in July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organisation Mr Tillerson once led.

NBC also said Mr Tillerson referred to Trump as a "moron" after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of the president's national security team and Cabinet officials.

NBC cited three anonymous officials familiar with the incident.

When asked if he called Mr Trump a moron, Mr Tillerson said: "We don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense."

However, he did not deny that he had called his boss that name.

Mr Tillerson added: "I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."

Mr Trump later tweeted that the story by NBC News "has just been totally refuted" by Mr Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence.

He called it "#FakeNews" and said the network "should issue an apology to AMERICA!"

NBC News said it stood by its reporting.

Mr Tillerson delivered his remarks before a lectern in the Treaty Room at the state department - a small antechamber where the walls are adorned with oil paintings of his predecessors in the key diplomatic role.

He characteristically betrayed little emotion, though sounded indignant as he responded to questions about whether he had ever called the president a "moron".

Instead, he sought to frame his response by praising Mr Trump's foreign policy and emphasising that he has been a good team player.

He pointedly noted successes by Nikki Haley, Mr Trump's UN ambassador, with whom he has been privately clashing for several months.

"President Trump's foreign policy goals break the mould of what people traditionally think of what is achievable," Mr Tillerson said.

He said his clear objective was to "dispel with this notion that I have ever considered leaving".

"There has never been consideration in my mind to leave," he added.

Mr Tillerson also rejected NBC News' assertion that Mr Pence had to persuade him this summer to stay in the Cabinet.

A person familiar with that conversation also disputed that Mr Pence sought to coax Mr Tillerson into not quitting.

The talks focused on easing tensions between Mr Tillerson and the White House and finding a way for the oil man to operate better within the Cabinet, the source said.

The White House said Mr Trump remained confident in Mr Tillerson.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: "If the president doesn't have confidence in somebody they will no longer remain in their position."

State department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later denied that Mr Tillerson called Mr Trump a "moron".

She said Mr Tillerson had told her that he did not make the comment and she took him at his word.

Mr Trump, on a visit to Las Vegas, said he has " total confidence" in Mr Tillerson.

Press Association

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