Rex Tiller­son: Oil­man with ties to Putin

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Rex Tiller­son, the ExxonMo­bil chief picked to head the US State Depart­ment, has built close ties with lead­ers around the globe, but most no­tably - and con­tro­ver­sially - with Rus­sia’s Vladimir Putin. Trained as an en­gi­neer, the sil­ver-haired oil­man is 64 and has never worked in gov­ern­ment, but his global deal-mak­ing ex­pe­ri­ence could be an as­set in de­fend­ing US in­ter­ests. His close re­la­tion­ship with Putin likely was key to Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s choice. Trump is keen to im­prove ties with Rus­sia which soured greatly when Rus­sia an­nexed Crimea in 2014.

But it also will be a key point of con­tention when Tiller­son comes up for con­fir­ma­tion by the Se­nate, against the back­drop of US in­tel­li­gence in­di­cat­ing that Rus­sia in­ter­fered to try to sway the US elec­tion for Trump. The ExxonMo­bil chief “has had more in­ter­ac­tive time with Vladimir Putin than prob­a­bly any other Amer­i­can with the ex­cep­tion of Henry Kissinger,” said John Hamre of the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CSIS). Tiller­son is a CSIS trustee.

And if Trump sees Tiller­son as dy­namic and able to get re­sults, crit­ics from Repub­li­can John McCain to en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists have a long list of con­cerns and doubts, in­clud­ing putting an oil­man in charge of the US role in global cli­mate change ac­cords. McCain has said that Tiller­son’s close ties to Putin were “a mat­ter of con­cern.” “I’d have to ex­am­ine it,” he said, ad­ding: “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a mur­derer, and any­body else who de­scribes him as any­thing else is ly­ing.”

Rus­sia’s Or­der of Friend­ship

Tiller­son and Putin met in the 1990s when the oil­man su­per­vised an Exxon project on Sakhalin Is­land and strength­ened their ties when Putin took power af­ter Boris Yeltsin re­signed in Dec 1999. Their “friend­ship” was crowned by a his­toric agree­ment Exxon signed in 2011 with Rus­sian pub­lic en­ergy gi­ant Ros­neft to ex­plore and drill in the Arc­tic and Siberia. The deal, at first val­ued at $3.2 bil­lion, could po­ten­tially gen­er­ate a hefty $500 bil­lion de­pend­ing on oil dis­cov­er­ies - but has been put on hold by Western sanc­tions against Rus­sia.

Tiller­son, who was awarded the Or­der of Friend­ship by Putin in 2012, lashed out against the sanc­tions at a share­hold­ers meet­ing in 2014. “We al­ways en­cour­age the peo­ple who are mak­ing those de­ci­sions to con­sider the very broad col­lat­eral dam­age of who are they re­ally harm­ing with sanc­tions,” he said.

For­eign Pol­icy Goals?

Born in Wi­chita Falls, Texas, Rex Tiller­son has spent his en­tire ca­reer at Exxon, which he joined in 1975. Ap­pointed CEO in 2006, he was due to re­tire in March. His views on for­eign pol­icy are lit­tle known, aside from the fact he is a pro­po­nent of free trade. Among the key is­sues await­ing him as sec­re­tary of state, he would over­see the Ira­nian nu­clear deal. Trump has said he wants to re­view the 2015 ac­cord struck be­tween Iran and the United States, China, Rus­sia, Ger­many, France and Bri­tain. He also will han­dle sanc­tions against Rus­sia, rows with China and the pro­tracted Syr­ian con­flict.

His ac­tion on cli­mate change will be closely scru­ti­nized, af­ter he re­sisted cut­ting in­vest­ment in the search for new oil wells. Sev­eral US states in­clud­ing New York, sup­ported by environmental ac­tivists, are su­ing the oil gi­ant for al­legedly de­ceiv­ing the pub­lic about the role of fos­sil fu­els in global warm­ing. His nom­i­na­tion is “un­fath­omable,” says environmental group 350.org. “We can­not let Mr. Trump name the world’s largest oil com­pany in charge of our in­ter­na­tional cli­mate pol­icy. Mr Tiller­son may be a friend of Mr Putin, but he is not a friend of the planet,” the NGO ar­gued, of­fer­ing an on­line a pe­ti­tion against his con­fir­ma­tion.

Tiller­son did come out in fa­vor of a car­bon tax in 2009, which his pre­de­ces­sor Lee Ray­mond fought. His po­si­tion as a share­holder of Exxon, in which he holds $150 mil­lion in shares ac­cord­ing to stock ex­change doc­u­ments, could pose a con­flict of in­ter­est since his de­ci­sions as top US diplo­mat could in­flu­ence the share price. And if sanc­tions on Rus­sia were dropped, the ExxonMo­bil share value likely would soar. — AFP

In this June 15, 2012 file photo, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin (left) and ExxonMo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son shake hands at a sign­ing cer­e­mony of an agree­ment be­tween state-con­trolled Rus­sian oil com­pany Ros­neft and ExxonMo­bil at the Black Sea port of Tuapse, south­ern Rus­sia. — AP

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