Rex Tillerson fired: Former Secretary of State fails to thank Trump in departure speech

Mr Tillerson's term will end on 31 March but his duties will end effective today 

Mythili Sampathkumar
New York
Tuesday 13 March 2018 19:27
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Rex Tillerson gives statement after being fired as Secretary of State

The recently-ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, sounding exhausted after just returning from a five-country tour of Africa, mentioned the “honesty” of Americans and “respect” of government colleagues in an emotional speech but did not mention President Donald Trump at all.

The former Exxon executive said earlier that he had spoken with the President hours after the firing, but numerous reports suggested he found out initially about losing his job via Mr Trump’s morning tweet.

Mr Tillerson is being replaced with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who will need to go through the Senate confirmation process.

Mr Trump told reporters in the wake of the announcement that he and Mr Pompeo shared similar thinking, while he had "disagreed with Mr Tillerson. He added that the former oil and gas CEO would be “much happier” out of office.

The outgoing Cabinet member will hand over his duties effective immediately to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan and will officially step down at midnight on 31 March.

In the meantime, he will meet with State Department career and diplomatic staff to "ensure a smooth, orderly transition" for incoming nominee Mr Pompeo.

Mr Tillerson addressed all his staff and that of Defence Secretary James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in saying they "all took the same oath of office" to "support and defend the Constitution" and "bear true faith and allegiance to the same".

"We are bound together by that oath, here in Washington and at posts across the world," he said.

Rex Tillerson fired: Trump has 'total confidence' in new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Mr Tillerson was effusive in his praise of career and diplomatic staff stationed around the globe, but particularly those in dangerous places; "the world needs selfless leaders like these," he said.

He noted that these "extraordinarily dedicated" people learned their skills in the field, "on the front lines," not in academia or a think tank. He also said he appreciated their hard work to maintain "accountability" and showing "respect for one another" at all times.

The "rewarding part of leadership" during Mr Tillerson's 14 months as the top US diplomat was "getting a few things done". He touted accomplishments in Afghanistan, America's longest war now in its 17th year and counting.

He said it was the first time the Defence Department and US military were able to work hand-in-hand with a cohesive diplomatic strategy instead of "16 one-year strategies" to pressure talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

He also said he was proud that the US "exceeded expectations of everyone" on the campaign to pressure North Korea to denuclearise despite years of continued development in the face of United Nations and US sanctions.

Mr Trump is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sometime in May 2018. Just hours before that announcement, however, Mr Tillerson had said that the US was a "long ways from negotiation".

He stressed again the idea that "nothing is possible without allies and partners".

Despite what he perceived as successes, Mr Tillerson said "much work remains" on a number of issues like the bloody conflict in Syria and the "troubling words and actions on the part of the Russian government. Continuing on their current trajectory will lead to further isolation on their part...[which is] not in anyone’s interest".

His sacking was announced just hours after his comments on Monday that the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK was “a really egregious act” that appears to have “clearly” come from Russia. He had called Russia "an irresponsible force of instability in the world, acting with open disregard for the sovereignty of other states and the life of their citizens".

In the hours before his sacking, he also said Russia's alleged poisoning, in public, on foreign soil could “certainly will trigger a response" from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). "I'll leave it at that," he said.

Mr Pompeo has a different tone on Russia, more similar to Mr Trump. Though he assured Fox News viewers the same day as Mr Tillerson's comments that "we have a very good understanding of the Russian program and how to make sure that Americans continue to be kept safe from threats" he also said the US intelligence community had ruled that Russia had no impact on the 2016 US election when a January 2017 joint assessment said there was no conclusion on that as yet.

The FBI and Congressional investigations into alleged collusion between Mr Trump's campaign team and Russian officials continue.

Mr Tillerson only spoke for approximately ten minutes while the world waited for some acknowledgement of the President, but he closed out his speech thanking the American people for their "hard work and tax dollars" used to support the US government and praised their and State Department employee's "honesty". 

He said he will return to private life after his term in office officially ends.

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