Tillerson Doesn’t Thank Trump in Speech After His Ouster
Outgoing secretary of state didn't mention president by name but said, 'Much remains to be done to achieve our mission on behalf of the American people'
Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t thank President Donald Trump for the privilege of serving the nation during a hastily scheduled speech Tuesday, hours after the chief executive unceremoniously ousted him.
Trump abruptly announced his firing of Tillerson Tuesday morning and his intention to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to serve as the country’s newest chief diplomat.
Tillerson, who had been traveling in Africa last week, cut short his trip to return to the U.S.
Tillerson thanked colleagues for “the privilege of serving beside you for the last 14 months” and thanked the American people for their “devotion to a free and open society” during a speech at the State Department headquarters, noting that “much remains to be done.”
“All of us know we want to leave this place as a better place for the next generation,” Tillerson said. “I’ll now return to private life as a private citizen and a proud American, proud of the opportunity that I’ve had to serve my country.”
Tillerson didn’t thank Trump or mention Trump’s name at all — the closest he came was when he noted that he “received a call today from the president of the United States a little after noontime from Air Force One, and I’ve also spoken to White House chief of staff [John] Kelly to ensure we have clarity as to the days ahead,” he said. “What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges.”
Tillerson said he’d turn over all responsibilities to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan “effective at the end of the day.” His commission will end at midnight on March 31.
Steve Goldstein, the outgoing undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, insisted Tuesday that Tillerson “did not speak to the president” prior to Tuesday’s announcement “and is unaware of the reason” for his removal.
The White House disputed Goldstein’s account, saying that Trump asked Tillerson to step aside Friday without mentioning the exact timing of the removal. The White House fired Goldstein later Tuesday.
Trump told reporters prior to boarding Air Force One that he and Tillerson “were not really thinking the same,” unlike how the president and Pompeo operated. Trump said that Tillerson didn’t share his vision for how the country should move forward.
“I’ve worked with Mike Pompeo now for quite some time. Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect. We’re always on the same wavelength,” Trump said. “The relationship has been very good, and that’s what I need as secretary of state.”
Tillerson urged his policy planning team, undersecretaries and assistant secretaries to remain at their posts “to continue our mission at the State Department in working with the interagency process.” He emphasized that his team has been “extraordinarily dedicated to our mission, which includes promoting values that I view as being very important.” Tillerson also stressed that “U.S. leadership starts with diplomacy.”
“The rewarding part of having leadership and partnerships in place is that you can actually get some things done. And I want to give recognition to the State Department and our partners for a few of their accomplishments under this administration,” Tillerson said.
The outgoing chief diplomat emphasized that his department “exceeded the expectations of almost everyone” with its “maximum pressure campaign” against North Korea and its quest for removing nuclear weapons from the region. Trump stunned the world last week when he agreed to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un to discuss the denuclearization of the peninsula after Kim made significant concessions.
“In other areas where progress has been made, much work remains. In Syria we did achieve important ceasefires and stabilizations, which we know have saved thousands of lives,” Tillerson said. “There’s more to be done in Syria, particularly with respect to achieving the peace, as well as stabilizing Iraq and seeing a healthy government installed, and more broadly in the entire global campaign to defeat ISIS.”
“Much work remains to establish a clear view of the nature of our future relationship with China,” Tillerson said. “And much work remains to respond to the troubling behavior and actions on the part of the Russian government.”
Tillerson warned that Russia “must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interests of the Russian people and of the world more broadly. Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part — a situation which is not in anyone’s interest.”