Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said domestic controversies plaguing President Donald Trump back in the U.S. “are not the issues that are on” the minds of the foreign leaders he has been meeting and interacting with as secretary of state, during an interview Sunday on Fox News’ “Fox News Sunday.”
Tillerson, along with several other top officials in the administration, accompanied Trump on his first overseas trip as president and spoke to host Chris Wallace from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Wallace asked Tillerson if foreign officials are concerned with the Russia-hysteria consuming the American media and some Democrats calling for Trump’s impeachment.
“The issues that are on their minds are security issues, economic issues, the issues of common interest to both of our countries. That’s what they want to talk about when I’m with them.”
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“My encounter with my counterparts, foreign ministers but I would also say heads of state, these are — these are not the issues that are on their mind,” Tillerson said. “The issues that are on their minds are security issues, economic issues, the issues of common interest to both of our countries. That’s what they want to talk about when I’m with them. And these domestic issues just simply never come up in our discussions.”
Tillerson said Trump has been accomplishing “historic” feats during his first overseas Trump as president.
“And the president himself has said he has learned a lot on this trip, and he’s learned a lot about the people, he’s learned a lot about their culture,” Tillerson said. “And I think this is an — it’s a really important process in terms of how we move forward with this relationship between the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world.”
Tillerson spoke with Wallace just before Trump delivered his highly anticipated speech at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh in which he urged the leaders of over 50 Muslim-majority countries to unite in the shared goal of stamping out violent extremism.
“And I think there’s great recognition among all the leaders of the Muslim world that they have to take responsibility for what has happened in many respects,” Tillerson said. “And they are taking responsibility. And they’re ready to join with us and other nations in confronting this terrible face of terrorism.”
“I think this is one of the great attributes of this president … that he is willing to call issues out, confront them, speak very plainly and bluntly about them,” Tillerson added. “And in many ways that motivate these countries to want to understand why the feelings in the U.S. are the way they are, but also to engage, to address those. And I think that’s what we are seeing in this visit to Riyadh, this visit to the country that is the custodian of the two holy mosques.”
The secretary of state also praised the positive steps the president has taken overseas to boost regional cooperation to defeat ISIS.
“I think it is historical, what’s happening here in Riyadh, under [King Salman’s] leadership, his convening of the GCC council this morning, where we had a very productive discussion on this subject of how to counter terrorism, how to defeat Daesh [ISIS], how to bring stability — greater stability to the region,” Tillerson said. “And I think what’s the output of this, Chris, are some framework agreements that are really going to guide the actions going forward, but there are concrete commitments being made as to how we will work together to defeat Daesh, to defeat terrorism here in the region as well as elsewhere.”
Tillerson empathized the president’s commitment to solving pressing problems of global significance while building relationships and restoring U.S. credibility.
“I think the other thing that’s important is there’s also agreement to continue this dialogue. It doesn’t end here,” Tillerson said. “There is a commitment to have another GCC summit with the U.S. a year from now. And one of the expectations is we will be measuring our project — our progress towards the initiatives and agreements that were signed here. And we will be looking for concrete results by which to measure each country’s commitments.”
Wallace asked Tillerson what about Trump was doing to promote human rights while in Saudi Arabia.
The secretary of state said that the way to “address those human rights issues and women’s rights issues is to improve the conditions in the region.”
“And today conditions in the region are under a lot of stress because of the threat of terrorism, the threat that Iran poses to instability in the region,” Tillerson said. “And these subjects are being discussed as well, and there are efforts underway to, I think, improve the rights of women, the participation of women in society throughout the region.”
“But you know, the primary reason we’re here today is to confront this threat of terrorism,” Tillerson insisted. “If we do not defeat Daesh, if we do not defeat these forces of evil, there will be no conditions under which we can even hope to improve the human rights for all of the people in the region.”