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State department disputes reports of Tillerson exiting

Reports had said Tillerson might be planning to leave, in the wake of his continuing policy and personnel problems with the White House and the way President Donald Trump treated Jeff Sessions.

world Updated: Jul 26, 2017 14:57 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
State Department,Rex Tillerson,Donald Trump
President Donald Trump with secretary of state Rex Tillerson during a meeting at the White House in June.(AP)

The US state department has said secretary of state Rex Tillerson is not leaving or resigning as had been reported by some media outlets, adding he was merely taking some time off after a “mega-trip overseas.”

“The secretary has been very clear he intends to stay here at the state department. We have a lot of work that is left to be done ahead of us,” spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters at the daily briefing on Tuesday.

Tillerson, she added, was “just taking a little time off” after returning from a “mega-trip overseas”, referring to the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, and other recent travels.

CNN first reported on Monday Tillerson might be planning to leave over his continuing policy and personnel problems with the White House and the way President Donald Trump has been recently treating a senior cabinet colleague and an early and loyal supporter Jeff Sessions.

Trump’s public rebuke and tormenting of Sessions, the first Republican senator to back him as a candidate at a time when most in the party did not expect him to last long, has reportedly worried other members of the cabinet. They are appalled and alarmed the president could do this to a loyal supporter like Sessions.

The report had said citing sources that Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO, could leave soon or by the end of the year after completing the reorganisation of the state department, essentially after getting rid of surplus staff.

Tillerson has had troubles with the White House over staffing, and has been forced to drop people he was considering for some senior level position at the state department, such as Elliot Abrams, who was being considered for the Number 2 slot.

Many senior level positions remain vacant. Of the 32 top posts, only one has been filled with a Senate-confirmed appointee. And only five have been nominated or selected for the remaining positions, according to one count.

The position of the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, which deals with India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others remains vacant after the exit of its last incumbent Nisha Biswal, a political appointee of the Obama administration.

Even the naming of ambassadors has been slow—only 30 have been named for a total of 188 positions, according to a report. India is among those still without a full-fledged ambassador. Rich Verma, the last one, was again a political appointee of the previous administration.

Staffing problems have led to at least one heated exchange between Tillerson and director of presidential personnel, Johnny DeStefano, at the White House in the presence senior officials such as senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief of staff Reince Priebus.

The secretary of state has also been seen to be at odds with the president on key foreign policy. Just hours after Tillerson made a very public appeal for an end to the blockade of Qatar in June, President Trump came out against Qatar calling it a “funder of terrorism, and at a very high level.”

But whatever his frustrations and differences with the White House, “Rexit”, as CNN called his possible exit playing on his first name, Tillerson is staying, the statement department spokesperson said.

“We have meetings scheduled. He has meetings scheduled for the rest of the week here in Washington,” she added.

First Published: Jul 26, 2017 14:56 IST