- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson is “the right person at the right time” to be America’s top diplomat, particularly when it comes to navigating the increasingly complex relationship between Washington and Moscow.

“This new administration must thread the needle between pushing back against Vladimir Putin’s aggressions, meddling, interventionism and bullying and at the same time, stop a dangerous downward spiral in our relationship with Russia,” Mr. Gates said at the start of Mr. Tillerson’s Senate confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.

“I believe Mr. Tillerson is the right person at the right time to help accomplish both of those goals,” Mr. Gates said.

He and a small group of others, including Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and former Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia, introduced Mr. Tillerson at the opening of Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Issues relating to Russia were expected to dominate the proceedings, with lawmakers likely to push Mr. Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006 through earlier this year and has a long history of relations with high-level Russian officials, to explain his views on the way forward between Washington and Moscow.

He’s expected to get a grilling from Democrats on the question of how he plans to prevent the interests of Exxon — a multibillion-dollar oil giant that works in more than 50 countries — from influencing his decision-making as secretary of state.

In a version of Mr. Tillerson’s opening statement, released Tuesday night, the nominee said he believes Russia “poses a danger” and is a cause for alarm among many American allies. But he also said it was the U.S. retreating from the world stage that left an opening for Mr. Putin’s resurgent policies.

The nominee said it will take careful analysis and diplomacy to handle the ambitious nation.

“Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies,” his statement said. “Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.”

Mr. Tillerson also said China poses both opportunities and challenges, and said the world must be “honest” about the threat from radical Islam, and said defeating the Islamic State is more important than settling simmering issues in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.

“There are competing priorities in this region which must be and will be addressed, but they must not distract from our utmost mission of defeating ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Defeating ISIS must be our foremost priority in the Middle East.”

Democrats are also expected to grill Mr. Tillerson over his views on climate change and the incoming Trump administration’s plans to change or renounce the 2015 global Paris Climate Accord. Outgoing Secretary of State John F. Kerry spent years pushing for the agreement and made the battle against climate change a central thrust of his tenure as America’s top diplomat.

A smattering of about 100 protesters snaked through the park outside the Dirkson Senate Office Building prior to the start of Wednesday’s hearing. Some wore dinosaur costumes. Others carried signs reading “Investigate Exxon.” The entire group chanted, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Tillerson must go.”

As Mr. Gates later worked his way into the hearing room, a man dressed in a flashy suit with green dollar bills printed on it snorted, “war criminal,” loud enough for everyone to hear.

Later, as the hearing got underway, a chant could be heard from the hallway outside, where protesters shouted, “reject Rex, reject Rex, reject Rex.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide