Trump taps Exxon chief as top diplo­mat

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump yes­ter­day tapped ExxonMo­bil chief Rex Tiller­son as his nom­i­nee to be sec­re­tary of state, de­spite con­cerns on both sides of the po­lit­i­cal aisle about the oil­man’s deep ties to Rus­sia. The nom­i­na­tion was the one most awaited by ob­servers at home and abroad as the 70year-old Repub­li­can bil­lion­aire builds his cabi­net be­fore tak­ing of­fice on Jan 20 and re­veals how his ad­min­is­tra­tion might al­ter for­eign pol­icy.

The pres­i­dent-elect has stoked alarm even among fel­low Repub­li­cans - by call­ing for closer ties with Moscow, in con­trast to the be­lief in Wash­ing­ton that Rus­sia re­mains a global se­cu­rity threat. The nom­i­na­tion comes just days af­ter the CIA ac­cused Rus­sia of in­ter­fer­ing to help Trump win the US elec­tion - a de­vel­op­ment which could com­pli­cate Tiller­son’s con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings be­fore the Se­nate. Trump promised that the ex­ec­u­tive, whose nom­i­na­tion was im­me­di­ately wel­comed by Vladimir Putin’s Krem­lin, has re­la­tion­ships with world lead­ers that are “sec­ond to none.”

Tiller­son “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,”Trump said. As ExxonMo­bil CEO, Tiller­son - who has spent his en­tire pro­fes­sional life at the com­pany, join­ing in 1975 was a vo­cal op­po­nent of sanc­tions on Moscow that thwarted his at­tempt to strike huge oil deals in the Rus­sian Arc­tic.

In 2013, Tiller­son was awarded Rus­sia’s Or­der of Friend­ship by Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. A se­nior Krem­lin aide said Putin and other Rus­sians have “good, busi­nesslike re­la­tions” with Tiller­son and praised him as a “very solid fig­ure”. As ExxonMo­bil’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive, the 64-year-old Texan over­sees the com­pany’s busi­ness ac­tiv­i­ties in more than 50 coun­tries. Ap­pointed CEO in 2006, he was due to re­tire in March. “Rex knows how to man­age a global en­ter­prise, which is cru­cial to run­ning a suc­cess­ful State Depart­ment, and his re­la­tion­ships with lead­ers all over the world are sec­ond to none,”Trump said.

Tiller­son - who has no for­mal for­eign pol­icy back­ground - is nev­er­the­less sure to face sharp ques­tions in the Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings, in­clud­ing from within the Repub­li­can party. Se­nior Repub­li­can Se­na­tor John McCain has said Tiller­son’s ties to Putin are “a mat­ter of con­cern”. “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a mur­derer, and any­body else who de­scribes him as any­thing else is ly­ing,” McCain said be­fore the nom­i­na­tion was for­mal­ized.

Se­na­tor Marco Rubio, who fought Trump for the Repub­li­can White House nom­i­na­tion, tweeted: “Be­ing a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an at­tribute I am hop­ing for from a #Sec­re­tary­ofS­tate”. Lead­ing se­na­tors - in­clud­ing McCain - on Mon­day threw their back­ing be­hind a con­gres­sional probe into US in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments on Rus­sia elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence, putting top Repub­li­cans on a col­li­sion course with Trump.

The pres­i­dent-elect has dis­missed the in­tel­li­gence re­ports about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence as “ridicu­lous”, de­fy­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of se­na­tors from his own party, as well as top Democrats, the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency and the out­go­ing White House. Tiller­son bested eight or nine con­tenders for the job of sec­re­tary of state, in­clud­ing for­mer CIA di­rec­tor David Pe­traeus, for­mer UN am­bas­sador John Bolton, Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Chair­man Bob Corker and erst­while Trump critic and for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor Mitt Rom­ney.

For­mer US sec­re­tary of state Con­doleezza Rice and for­mer de­fense sec­re­tary Bob Gates, who have done con­sul­tancy work for ExxonMo­bil, praised the choice. “He will bring to the post re­mark­able and broad in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence; a deep un­der­stand­ing of the global econ­omy; and a be­lief in Amer­ica’s spe­cial role in the world,” Rice said. Out­go­ing Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry con­grat­u­lated Tiller­son and said the State Depart­ment would pro­vide “full sup­port for a smooth tran­si­tion”.

Trump’s sec­re­tary of state will be tasked with over­see­ing in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions for a pres­i­dent in­tent on trash­ing pro­to­col and up­end­ing re­la­tion­ships built on decades of del­i­cate diplo­macy. Be­yond thorny ties with Rus­sia, Sino-US re­la­tions are strained af­ter a se­ries of moves by Trump that pro­voked China, the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy. Trump raised eye­brows by tak­ing a con­grat­u­la­tory call from the pres­i­dent of Tai­wan, a self-rul­ing is­land that Beijing con­sid­ers to be part of its ter­ri­tory await­ing re­uni­fi­ca­tion.

The pres­i­dent-elect is also court­ing con­tro­versy over the state of his real es­tate em­pire. Crit­ics ar­gue that it would be an un­prece­dented eth­i­cal con­flict for Trump to main­tain in­ter­est in prop­er­ties span­ning the globe in­vest­ments that rely partly on good­will from for­eign gov­ern­ments and reg­u­la­tors. Trump post­poned a press con­fer­ence orig­i­nally set for Thurs­day at which he was to un­veil his plans for sep­a­rat­ing him­self from his global busi­ness deal­ings, in­stead tak­ing to Twit­ter.

“No new deals will be done dur­ing my term(s) in of­fice,” he said late Mon­day, ad­ding that he would leave his busi­nesses be­fore Jan­uary 20 and that his two adult sons, Don and Eric, would man­age his com­pa­nies. With Tiller­son’s nom­i­na­tion, Trump is wrap­ping up the process of build­ing a cabi­net. Mul­ti­ple re­ports say he has cho­sen for­mer Texas gov­er­nor Rick Perry to be en­ergy sec­re­tary. He greeted the usual stream of of­fi­cials at Trump Tower yes­ter­day - along with rap­per Kanye West. The pres­i­den­t­elect said the un­usual pair dis­cussed “life”. — AFP

NEW YORK: Singer Kanye West and US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump speak with the press af­ter their meet­ing at Trump Tower yes­ter­day. (In­set) File photo shows ExxonMo­bil Pres­i­dent and CEO Rex Tiller­son, who has been tapped by Trump as his sec­re­tary of state. — AFP

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