Trump 'taking sides with Russia' with Secretary of State pick

AAP, Newstalk ZB staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Dec 2016, 8:27am
Russian President - then Prime Minister - Vladimir Putin, right, and Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil's chief executive in 2011. Photo / AP / NZH

Trump 'taking sides with Russia' with Secretary of State pick

AAP, Newstalk ZB staff,
Publish Date
Wed, 14 Dec 2016, 8:27am

President-elect Donald Trump has announced Exxon Mobil Corp Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson as his choice for US secretary of state, despite concerns from lawmakers in both political parties over the oilman's ties to Russia.


Tillerson's experience in diplomacy stems from making deals with foreign countries for Exxon, the world's largest energy company, and Trump praised him as a successful international dealmaker who leads a global operation.

"He will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America's vital national interests and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America's security and standing in the world," Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.

Tillerson has been chief executive of Exxon Mobil since 2006 and, like Trump, has never held public office. Tillerson said in a statement that he shared the president-elect's "vision for restoring the credibility of the United States' foreign relations and advancing our country's national security."

Some lawmakers raised concerns about Tillerson's relationship with Moscow. His appointment requires Senate confirmation.

Senator John McCain, a leading Republican foreign policy voice and his party's 2008 nominee for president, told Reuters: "I have concerns. It's very well known that he has a very close relationship with (Russian President) Vladimir Putin."

Trump picked Tillerson, 64, after the Texan was backed by several Republican establishment figures, including former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, a senior transition official said.

Rice and Gates, who have worked for Exxon as consultants, both issued statements of support on Tuesday.

Their backing is seen as crucial to helping Tillerson get past a possibly contentious Senate confirmation battle likely to focus on his relationship with Putin.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker said he would hold a confirmation hearing in early January. He called Tillerson "a very impressive individual" with "an extraordinary working knowledge of the world."

In 2013, Putin bestowed on Tillerson a Russian state honour, the Order of Friendship, citing his work "strengthening cooperation in the energy sector."

Tillerson's "cozy ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia would represent an untenable conflict at the State Department," Representative Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, said.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio also said he had serious concerns.

"The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America's interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America's foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage," Rubio said.

There also are concerns among lawmakers about former UN Ambassador John Bolton, who has been mentioned as a possible No. 2 State Department official and who has voiced hawkish views on Iraq and Iran, as well as on China and Taiwan.

Tillerson won fresh support from Moscow on Tuesday, with a Kremlin foreign policy aide saying he had good relations not only with Putin but with many other Russian officials as well.

The US business community welcomed Trump's choice of Tillerson, with GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt calling him "a great negotiator."

Human rights, environmental and other advocacy groups decried the choice, questioning Exxon deals with various governments and environmental impact under Tillerson.

Political analyst at St Louis University David Robertson told Rachel Smalley it's a Cabinet that reflects Trump's cosying up to Vladimir Putin.

"But it also signals that Trump is taking sides with Russia against China, and that will lead to more tension in the Pacific," he said.

Robertson said the choice is causing serious concern.

"There's a little bit of concern, more than a little bit, about how these ties to the Russian economy and to the Russian leadership will benefit the United States."