Tillerson back at work, US state department rubbishes exit reports

Earlier reports claimed Tillerson was planning to quit over his continuing policy and personnel problems with the White House

world Updated: Jul 26, 2017 20:28 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson,state department,Donald Trump
File photo of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson.(Reuters)

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson was back at work on Wednesday, with the state department dismissing rumours that he was planning to quit. The department said he was away from work to take some time off after a “mega-trip overseas”.

Tillerson was scheduled to receive visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Qatar’s foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, according to the state department’s schedule of engagements of its senior leaders for Wednesday.

“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.

She added Tillerson was “just taking a little time off” after returning from a “mega-trip overseas”, referring to the G20 meetings in Hamburg and other recent travels.

CNN on Monday reported 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 senior cabinet colleague Jeff Sessions.

Trump’s public rebuke and tormenting of Sessions — the first Republican senator to back him as a presidential candidate — has reportedly worried other members of the cabinet. They are appalled and alarmed the president could do this to loyal supporter like Sessions.

The report, citing sources, had said Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO, could leave by the end of the year after completing the reorganization of the state department — essentially after riding it of surplus staff.

Tillerson has had troubles with the White House overstaffing, and has been forced to drop people he was considering for senior level positions at the state department.

Of the 32 top leadership posts, only one has been filled by a Senate-confirmed appointee. And according to one count, only five have been nominated or selected for the remaining positions.

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 Barack 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 by 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.

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

First Published: Jul 26, 2017 20:28 IST