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Donald Trump fires Tillerson, replaces him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he had replaced his secretary of state Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, and had tapped Gina Haspel to lead the CIA.

world Updated: Mar 13, 2018 23:39 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Donald Trump,Rex Tillerson,Mike Pompeo
This combination of pictures created on March 13, 2018 shows then US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) on February 15, 2018 and then US Congressman Mike Pompeo, on January 12, 2017. US President Donald Trump ousts top diplomat Rex Tillerson and named Mike Pompeo as he successor at the State Department.(AFP Photo)

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired secretary of state Rex Tillerson, replacing him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo, with whom he said he is on the “same wavelength”.

Trump also nominated Gina Haspel, deputy director of the CIA, to take over from Pompeo. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to head the spy agency.

However, her confirmation process could get ugly over her role in overseeing one of the CIA’s controversial “black sites” — offshore prisons known for using torture during the interrogation of terror suspects. She was also allegedly involved in destroying evidence of interrogations at the facility in Thailand.

Trump announced the changes in a tweet on Tuesday morning. Later, talking to reporters, he said: “Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time...We got along, actually, quite well but we disagreed on things.”

Many observers noted that Tillerson was sacked soon after he blamed Russia for the nerve agent attack on former double agent Sergei Skripal in Britain and said that those behind the crime must face serious consequences.

Rumours about friction between Trump and Tillerson have circulated for months, and media reports said Tillerson had called the president a “moron” — something that the secretary of state never denied. Tillerson reportedly considered resigning at one stage, but was talked out of it by vice president Mike Pence.

Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil CEO, differed with Trump on many policy issues, sometimes publicly. Trump pointed to their differences about the Iran nuclear deal in remarks on the announcement.

“When you look at the Iran deal,” he said. “I think it’s terrible, I guess he (Tillerson) thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently.”

They also differed on North Korea. At a time when Trump was talking tough and threatening Pyongyang with “fire and fury” and complete destruction, Tillerson sought to keep doors open for talks.

However, Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has been a trusted adviser to Trump even on domestic issues. “We’re always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good and that’s what I need as secretary of state,” Trump told reporters.

State department official Steve Goldstein, in a statement, said Tillerson had “every intention of remaining” in office, had not spoken to Trump on Tuesday, and was “unaware of the reason” why he had been asked to go. Soon after he issued the statement, the White House fired Goldstein, one of Tillerson’s top aides.

Two officials familiar with the situation told the Associated Press that Tillerson had been fired on Friday, while he was on an official trip to Africa. A separate White House official said dismissing Tillerson had been discussed at multiple levels for a long time, and the North Korea overture and invitation brought more urgency to the decision.

The change of leadership at the state department will be closely followed in New Delhi, as it comes just a month before India and the US are scheduled to hold their first 2+2 dialogue — the simultaneous meeting of the defence and foreign ministers — in Washington.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj met Tillerson on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last September. Tillerson visited India in October, prefacing it with a rousing speech in which he called India and the US as “two bookends of stability”.

(With inputs from agencies)

First Published: Mar 13, 2018 18:28 IST