Trump taps Exxon chief as top diplomat
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