Sacked Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Tuesday he will stay on the job through March 31 and urged his sworn assistants to “remain at their posts” through the transition to his successor Mike Pompeo.
In a somber post-firing news briefing at State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom, Mr. Tillerson thanked the department’s rank and file “for the privilege of serving” as America’s top diplomat.
The former ExxonMobil CEO, who left his position at the oil company to join President Trump’s Cabinet, also thanked staffers for “promoting values I think are important” and hailed their work while “treating each other with honesty and integrity and respect for one another.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House as he departed for California, Mr. Trump said he and Mr. Tillerson had numerous disagreements over the past 14 months.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time,” the president said. “We disagreed on things, like the Iran [nuclear] deal. I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it’s OK. I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. We were not really thinking the same. It was a different mindset.”
The president added, “I think Rex will be much happier now.”
The announcement came barely four hours after Mr. Tillerson returned to Washington a day early from a diplomatic mission to Africa. A Tillerson spokesman said the president never explained to Mr. Tillerson the reason he was fired, and that Mr. Tillerson had wanted to stay on the job.
“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,” the outgoing secretary of state said in his remarks Tuesday, asserting that he’s soon delegate all responsibilities to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
It remains to be seen how long it will take Capitol Hill to confirm CIA Director Mike Pompeo — Mr. Trump’s new pick as secretary of state.
Mr. Tillerson encouraged his own “policy planning team and undersecretaries and assistant secretaries…to remain at their post and continue our mission at the State Department.”
“We remain steadfast here in Washington and at posts across the world, many of whom are in danger-pay situations without their families,” he said.
Success on North Korea?
Mr. Tillerson touted accomplishments he and his staff have worked for over the past 14 months, saying they “exceeded the expectations of almost everyone” by ramping up a “maximum pressure campaign” against North Korea.
“The department undertook a global campaign to bring partners and allies on board in every country around the world, with every embassy and mission raising this to the highest levels,” he said. “At every meeting I’ve had throughout the year, this has been on the agenda to discuss.”
He also praised the adoption of a new “South Asia strategy with a conditions-based military plan as the tool to compel the Taliban to reconciliation and peace talks with the Afghan government.”
Mr. Tillerson pointed to challenges ahead with regard to U.S. relations with China and Russia.
“Russia must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interests of the Russian people and of the world more broadly,” he said. “Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part, a situation which is not in anyone’s interest.”
“Much remains to be done,” Mr. Tillerson said, although he added that he personally will “now return to private life as a private citizen, as a proud American, proud of the opportunity I’ve had to serve my country.”
“God bless all of you. God bless the American people. God bless America,” he said.