First Published: 2017-10-05

Tillerson denies falling out with Trump
US Secretary of State dismisses report that he had once dubbed US President "moron," vows to remain in post.
Middle East Online

Did you say it?

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson firmly denied Wednesday that he had fallen out with Donald Trump and vowed to remain in post, dismissing a report that he had once dubbed the president a "moron."

For his part, Trump declared he has "total confidence" in his top diplomat, after both had denied an explosive report that Tillerson became so frustrated over the summer that he considered resigning.

According to the NBC News story, which cited "multiple senior administration officials" but was described as "erroneous" by the State Department, Tillerson had referred to Trump as a "moron" at a July 20 Pentagon meeting.

Afterwards, the report said, Tillerson met with Vice President Mike Pence, who urged him to show more respect, and with other senior officials who urged him not to resign.

Appearing before reporters at a hastily organized news conference in the State Department, Tillerson denied the report and pledged Trump his full support.

"There's never been a consideration in my mind to leave," the former oil executive said.

"I serve at the appointment of the president and I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives."

Tillerson's spokeswoman Heather Nauert later said the secretary had called Trump. "He told me that, Heather, it was quote 'a good conversation' and that 'we're all good,'" she said.

The former ExxonMobil chief executive's tenure at the State Department has drawn scorn from Trump's opponents, from former diplomats and from the Washington policy elite.

He has also been faced with an extraordinary array of foreign policy challenges -- from North Korean nuclear threats to Russian subversion to attacks on US diplomats in Cuba.

- Taunting tweets -

But his efforts have been overshadowed -- some would say undermined -- by Trump's un-diplomatic style and his streams of taunting tweets stirring international tensions.

Formerly a respected figure in the oil business, the 65-year-old Texan has been attacked for failing to develop his own political profile and for failing to fight the State Department's corner.

It is commonplace for him to be described by Washington pundits as the weakest secretary ever -- and one scathing Washington Post column this week called him "Donald Trump's dog."

But his public loyalty to Trump hasn't always been rewarded with support from the top.

On Sunday, as Tillerson flew home from meeting with top Chinese officials, Trump tweeted that his envoy was "wasting his time" in trying to probe North Korea's willingness to talks.

The State Department denied this was a reprimand, insisting Trump had been warning Kim Jong-Un that he should respond quickly to diplomatic overtures or face tougher action.

And, on Tuesday, Tillerson's cabinet ally Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pointedly told lawmakers at a congressional hearing that he backed the secretary's North Korea strategy.

But Trump's Twitter outburst had triggered a new round of speculation.

Richard Haass, former chief policy adviser to then secretary Colin Powell and the 15-year president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, said Tillerson should go.

"Rex Tillerson has been dealt a bad hand by the Potus & has played it badly. For both reasons he cannot be effective SecState & should resign," he tweeted Wednesday.

Tillerson came out fighting.

He did not himself directly address the damaging allegation that he had called Trump a "moron" -- but Nauert later stated that the secretary "did not use that type of language... he did not say that."

Tillerson alleged that unidentified others were spreading malicious rumors to tear down the president's agenda, and vowed: "I do not and I will not operate that way."

- 'Categorically false' -

He praised his cabinet colleagues, cited their main achievements, and promised: "There's much to be done and we're just getting started."

And he spoke warmly of Trump.

"He loves his country. He puts Americans and America first. He's smart. He demands results wherever he goes," Tillerson said.

Trump tweeted his support immediately after Tillerson's remarks and later told reporters: "It was fake news. It was a totally phony story."

The vice president's office also issued a statement insisting Pence had never discussed Tillerson's possible resignation, stating: "Any reporting to the contrary is categorically false."


Saudi to carry out nuclear power deal with or without US

Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Air strikes hit Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort

US approves $1 billion in Saudi defence contracts

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Israel ministers welcome US appointment of 'friend' Bolton

Turkey says EU statements on Cyprus 'unacceptable'

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed