Amid reports claiming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is resigning, his office confirms he’s just taking a break after a lot of recent traveling.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took several days off from a job in which President Trump repeatedly has undercut him.
Though he was back at work Wednesday, earlier word of his absence spawned media reports that the former ExxonMobil CEO is unhappy and might soon resign. He certainly has plenty of reasons to feel frustrated serving as chief diplomat for a president who regularly sets foreign policy by tweet or speech that is at odds with Tillerson’s advice.
The State Department said Tuesday that Tillerson was taking a few days off after a heavy travel schedule. Asked if Tillerson is happy with the freedom he has to make decisions, Tillerson’s spokeswoman Heather Nauert said decision-making involved many advisers “who may not agree on different situations.”
“Ultimately, the president is in charge of this country. He decides. He’s the boss. And I’ll just leave it at that,” Nauert said.
Frustration with that process would not be surprising for a corporate chieftain used to calling the shots himself, said Jon Alterman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former State Department policy planner under President George W. Bush.
“Government is a lot different than running a business,” Alterman said. “It requires much more persuasion than many CEOs are used to.”
In many recent cases, Tillerson has not been persuasive enough. Here are some examples:
Sidelined on the Jerusalem crisis
Tillerson’s name did not come up during a 75-minute interview this week with a senior U.S. diplomat about the American role of a dispute between Palestinians and Israel over Israel’s security measures on the Temple Mount, a holy site that Muslims call Haram al-Sharif.
Instead, U.S. consulate staff in Jerusalem and Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, have dealt directly with the White House, where Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is directing U.S.-Israel policy, said the diplomat, who is familiar with the discussion. The diplomat did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Fine against ExxonMobil while CEO
The Treasury Department last week fined Tillerson’s former company, where he spent 41 years, for violating U.S. sanctions on Russia while he was at the company’s helm.
Tillerson’s role at ExxonMobil before heading the company was to develop oil and gas exploration and drilling operations around the world. In 2012, he received a Medal of Freedom from Russian President Vladimir Putin for developing oil fields in Russia.
The $2 million fine was for eight documents the company signed in May 2014 for energy deals with Russian oil giant Rosneft’s president, Igor Sechin, who was subject to sanctions at the time, according to the Treasury enforcement action.
Trump’s speech to Boy Scout Jamboree
Trump used a speech to the Boy Scouts National Jamboree on Monday to launch a political attack on “fake news,” inaccurate polls and President Barack Obama.
Scout leaders and Scouts jeered as Trump mentioned Obama’s name. But many parents objected publicly to the political tone of his remarks.
The Boy Scouts of America issued a statement saying the group is “wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy.”
Tillerson, an Eagle Scout and former president of the Boy Scouts of America, visited the Jamboree on Friday for the unveiling of a statue in his honor.
Trump takes sides in Qatar-Saudi rift
Tillerson’s attempt in June to act as a neutral broker on a rift between Qatar and Saudi Arabia was undercut by Trump’s overt support for Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, cut diplomatic and transportation ties to Qatar, citing the Persian Gulf nation’s ties to Saudi rival Iran and its alleged support for certain hardline Islamist groups. The United States maintains its largest military base in the Middle East at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base south of the capital, Doha, with more than 10,000 military personnel and Central Command facilities.
Trump called Qatar a “funder of terrorism,” a Saudi talking point in the crisis, hours after Tillerson urged the sides to ease tensions and mend their differences.
Qatar is oil rich, but the blockade resulted in humanitarian hardship, Tillerson said.
Talks to end the standoff remained deadlocked Wednesday.
Trump abandons Paris climate accord
Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord on June 1, just weeks after Tillerson signed an international statement stressing the significance of the agreement to addressing climate change.
Tillerson had lobbied Trump to remain in the 195-nation agreement signed by Obama, which set a goal of keeping the earth from warming by more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels.
Trump said he was open to entering a new agreement that would not put U.S. businesses and workers at a disadvantage to developing economies like China and India. Other countries rejected renegotiation of the accord.
Trump’s Putin problem
Trump has urged Tillerson and other members of his national security team to seek ways to improve U.S.-Russian relations. Yet Tillerson has taken a harder stance on Russia’s behavior than Trump
Last week, spokeswoman Nauert referred to an insurgency in eastern Ukraine in unusually tough language: “Russian-led and Russian-advised so-called separatists.”
Under Tillerson, the State Department also called out Russia for supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad despite chemical weapon attacks it said his forces used against Syrian civilians in towns controlled by rebels fighting his rule.
And Tillerson has slammed Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, a conclusion by the U.S. intelligence community that Trump continues to question.
Trump’s tolerance of Assad
Trump, who ordered missile strikes on a Syrian airfield in retaliation for Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons, seems willing to let him stay in power despite Tillerson’s demand that he go.
A cease-fire agreement Tillerson helped negotiate after Trump met with Putin in Hamburg on July 7 prevents Assad’s air attacks on certain areas but does not stop his forces from fighting rebels elsewhere.
“We see no long-term role for the Assad family or the Assad regime,” Tillerson said at the time. However, Russia got involved in Syria’s civil war to help ally Assad survive, and the U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement leaves the Syrian leader in a strong position.
Contributing: Noga Tarnopolsky
Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2w1hrVj