Tiller­son’s exit hurts Iran deal

North Korea talks un­likely to be af­fected

National Post (Latest Edition) - - WORLD - EL LAIKE

As far as fir­ings un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump go, Rex Tiller­son’s is not the most hu­mil­i­at­ing. That dis­hon­our would have to go to for­mer chief of staff, Reince Priebus. He learned he was fired through three Trump tweets and soon af­ter was de­cou­pled from the pres­i­dent’s mo­tor­cade.

But Tiller­son’s de­par­ture is nonethe­less a slap in the face to a for­mer CEO who ad­vised and quar­relled with a man who used to play one on TV. As Un­der­sec­re­tary of State for Pub­lic Diplo­macy Steve Gold­stein said in a state­ment Tues­day, “The Sec­re­tary did not speak to the Pres­i­dent this morn­ing and is un­aware of the rea­son, but he is grate­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to serve.” Ouch.

The truth is this was a long time com­ing. In­side the State De­part­ment, Tiller­son’s al­lies have long whis­pered about the ru­mours of his im­mi­nent de­par­ture, re­fer­ring to “Rexit.” Trump him­self ac­knowl­edged Tues­day be­fore board­ing Air Force One for Cal­i­for­nia that he and Tiller­son had been dis­cussing him leav­ing since the sum­mer. They just dis­agreed on too much.

Tiller­son had a close re­la­tion­ship with De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis. They usu­ally met at least once a week and were of­ten aligned on im­por­tant for­eign pol­icy tus­sles in­side the na­tional se­cu­rity cab­i­net. But over time, Tiller­son found him­self frozen out and in dis­agree­ment with the man who mat­tered most, Trump.

“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s ter­ri­ble,” Trump told re­porters Tues­day. “I guess he thought it was OK.” That’s im­por­tant be­cause Tiller­son’s State De­part­ment is charged with prod­ding Euro­pean al­lies to go along with fixes to the nu­clear agree­ment ahead of the next dead­line for Trump to cer­tify Iran’s com­pli­ance.

Com­pare that with the man whom Trump has nom­i­nated to re­place Tiller­son, CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo. In his year lead­ing the agency, Pom­peo ap­proved new au­thor­i­ties to tar­get through in­tel­li­gence oper­a­tions lead­ers of Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps. In­side the cab­i­net, Pom­peo ar­gued against cer­ti­fy­ing Ira­nian com­pli­ance with the nu­clear deal while Tiller­son made the case for not rock­ing the boat.

To get a flavour of how Pom­peo ap­proaches the nu­clear pact, look no fur­ther than his work as a mem­ber of Congress rep­re­sent­ing his home dis­trict in Wi­chita, Kansas. Af­ter the agree­ment was com­pleted in 2015, Pom­peo worked tire­lessly as a mem­ber of Congress to meet with Euro­pean bankers, diplo­mats and CEOs to make the case that in­vest­ing in Iran was not as safe as they were hear­ing from John Kerry, who was sec­re­tary of state at the time.

Pom­peo laid out his ar­gu­ments six weeks be­fore the 2016 elec­tion in an es­say for For­eign Pol­icy with the pithy ti­tle “Friends Don’t Let Friends Do Busi­ness With Iran.” At the time, one Euro­pean diplo­mat told me his coun­try was tak­ing its cues from the out­go­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on in­vest­ment in Iran. Now it will be tak­ing cues from the man who tried to warn them about this.

On two other im­por­tant for­eign pol­icy ar­eas, Rus­sia and North Korea, the dif­fer­ences be­tween Pom­peo and Tiller­son are less pro­nounced. Tiller­son be­gan his ten­ure as sec­re­tary of state seek­ing a re­set of sorts with Rus­sia. In his first visit to Mos­cow last year, he asked Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin what he wanted from the U. S.- Rus­sia re­la­tion­ship and on what ar­eas the two coun­tries could co- op­er­ate. T his t urned i nto ne­go­ti­a­tions over de­con­flic­tion zones in Syria, which the Rus­sians have since vi­o­lated.

Since the sum­mer though, Tiller­son had soured on Rus­sia. On Mon­day, be­fore he was fired, he told re­porters that the nerve agent at­tack in the United King­dom last week “clearly came from Rus­sia.” Be­fore that, Tiller­son’s State De­part­ment was pre­par­ing new sanc­tions with the Trea­sury De­part­ment to tar­get some of the en­ti­ties and in­di­vid­u­als charged last month by Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller for med­dling on­line against the 2016 elec­tion.

Pom­peo too has taken a harder line than Trump him­self on Rus­sia. As CIA di­rec­tor he said last April that Wik­iLeaks, the web com­mu­nity that posted the emails of prom­i­nent Democrats hacked by Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary spy agency, would be treated as a “hos­tile in­tel­li­gence ser­vice.” More re­cently, Pom­peo’s CIA has stepped up in­tel­li­gence shar­ing and con­tacts with Ukraine’s spy ser­vice, which is fight­ing a war on its east­ern front against Krem­lin op­er­a­tives and Rus­sian-backed sep­a­ratists.

No­tably, Tiller­son was on a trip through Africa when Trump an­nounced he had ac­cepted an in­vi­ta­tion, con­veyed through a South Korean del­e­ga­tion, to meet with North Korea’s tyrant, Kim Jong Un. Tiller­son was an early ad­vo­cate for U. S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in talks with North Korea, though not at such a high level. When asked about the po­ten­tial sum­mit, Tiller­son was cau­tious and said plan­ning was in the “very early stages.”

That’s not ex­actly the kind of flat­ter­ing hy­per­bole Trump would like to hear from his Cab­i­net sec­re­taries. Com­pare Tiller­son’s re­sponse to that of Pom­peo. Speak­ing about the prospect of a Trump- Kim meet­ing, the CIA di­rec­tor played up what Tiller­son played down. “These are real achieve­ments,” Pom­peo told Fox News on Sun­day. “These are con­di­tions that the North Korean regime has never sub­mit­ted to in ex­change for con­ver­sa­tions.”

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