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Trump fires Tillerson, replaces him with Pompeo at State

Washington, Mar 13 (EFE).- President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday and said he would nominate Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Mike Pompeo to be the top US diplomat.

A senior administration official said that Mr. Trump made the decision to replace Mr. Tillerson now to have a new team in place before upcoming talks with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader he plans to meet by May, and for various ongoing trade negotiations.

Mr. Trump said he will replace Mr. Pompeo with the deputy C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, making her the first woman to head the spy agency. Both she and Mr. Pompeo would need confirmation by the Senate to take the positions.

Mr. Tillerson has been out of favor with Mr. Trump for months but had resisted being pushed out and vowed to remain on the job. But his distance from Mr. Trump’s inner circle was clear last week when the president accepted an invitation to meet with Mr. Kim, to the surprise of Mr. Tillerson, who was traveling in Africa at the time.

In his announcement, Mr. Trump focused on Mr. Pompeo without explaining his decision about Mr. Tillerson.

“As Director of the C.I.A., Mike has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community,” he said in a written statement distributed by the White House.

“I have gotten to know Mike very well over the past 14 months, and I am confident he is the right person for the job at this critical juncture,” he continued. He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Mr. Pompeo, a former congressman, has become a favorite of Mr. Trump’s, impressing the president with his engaging approach during morning intelligence briefings. He has been at odds with Mr. Trump at times too — agreeing with his agency about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections — but he managed the relationship with the president more effectively than Mr. Tillerson did.

In picking Ms. Haspel to succeed Mr. Pompeo at the C.I.A., Mr. Trump opted for continuity rather than bringing in an outsider. At one point last fall, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of the president’s closest Republican allies on Capitol Hill, had been tentatively tapped as the front-runner to run the agency if Mr. Pompeo moved up, but the idea later faded.

Mr. Tillerson had struggled with his role after Mr. Trump ignored his advice on the Iran deal, contradicted him on the Middle East and issued blistering Twitter posts suggesting his effort to negotiate with North Korea was a waste of time.

Mr. Tillerson, a former chief executive of the oil giant Exxon Mobil, had once been viewed as an intriguing, if unorthodox, cabinet choice. He had deep experience with Middle Eastern potentates, and knew President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia through Exxon’s extensive efforts to explore for oil in Russia.

But the early enthusiasm for bringing a business sensibility to the State Department faded fast, as Mr. Tillerson seemed overwhelmed by the diplomatic challenges before him and isolated by career foreign service officers who he often froze out of the most important debates.

Veteran diplomats, who had seen in the gravelly voiced Mr. Tillerson a man of stature, experience and great wealth whom they hoped the president would respect and heed, eventually turned against him, as he expressed more interest in shrinking the department than expanding American influence.

While other cabinet officers made their goals plain, Mr. Tillerson never set clear diplomatic priorities other than to pursue Mr. Trump’s slogan of “America First,” a term he never really defined. In an odd admission more than eight months into his tenure, Mr. Tillerson told employees in September that his top priority was to make the State Department more efficient. Yet he never fully addressed what diplomats should be doing with that greater efficiency.

Congress rebelled, declining to endorse his suggested 30 percent cuts in the State Department’s budget. But the message of his tenure seemed clear: At a moment when money was being poured into the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, diplomacy seemed less valued than at any time in recent American history.

The turning point in his tenure came when NBC News reported that Mr. Tillerson had called the president a “moron,” leading him to take the extraordinary step of holding a news conference to affirm his support for Mr. Trump and insist that he had never considered resigning.

During a trip to Beijing last summer, Mr. Tillerson told reporters that he already had “a couple, three” lines into North Korea to get communication started with the United States. By the next morning, Mr. Trump erupted, and denigrated the effort on Twitter by saying Mr. Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

“Save your energy Rex,” he added, “we’ll do what has to be done!” Mr. Trump later said he wished his secretary of state were tougher. The Chinese were left to wonder why Mr. Trump sent an emissary whose message the president did not believe in.

Part of the reason for Mr. Trump’s eruption then was that Mr. Tillerson’s suggestion of secret talks with North Korea surprised South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who called the White House to complain, according to people with knowledge of the exchange. That Mr. Tillerson failed to take into account South Korea’s possible reaction was one of several embarrassing stumbles he made as the nation’s chief diplomat arising from his own inexperience and decision to insulate himself from the department’s diplomatic corps.

With his resignation, Mr. Tillerson joins a long list of Trump administration appointees who have left or been fired, including the president’s first national security adviser, chief of staff, chief strategist, press secretary and secretary of health and human services.

Mr. Tillerson had some successes, including the growing international isolation of North Korea and improved ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. But he is likely to go down as among the least successful secretaries of state in history, and one big reason was his poor management of his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Although Mr. Tillerson spent his first months on the job getting to know Mr. Trump at lunches, dinners and White House get-togethers, the two never established a comfortable rapport.

Once the head of the Boy Scouts of America, Mr. Tillerson was outraged when the president spoke to the Boy Scouts and turned it into a political event. When Mr. Trump declined to denounced white nationalists who paraded in Charlottesville, Mr. Tillerson made it clear that Mr. Trump “speaks for himself” — not his secretary of state. The growing distance between the men was on clear display during Mr. Trump’s trip to Asia in November, when Mr. Tillerson visited the prison that once housed Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona who is a frequent critic of the president.

But there were also profound disagreements on policy. Mr. Tillerson wanted to remain part of the Paris climate accord; Mr. Trump decided to leave it. Mr. Tillerson supported the continuation of the Iran nuclear deal; Mr. Trump loathed the deal as “an embarrassment to the United States.” And Mr. Tillerson believed in dialogue to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, but Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened military options.

Veteran diplomats said they could not remember a time when a president so regularly undermined his secretary of state so brazenly in the midst of a tense situation. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served many Republican presidents, urged Mr. Tillerson to quit after the China trip. “Rex Tillerson has been dealt a bad hand by the Potus & has played it badly,” he wrote in the new lingua franca of diplomacy, a tweet, using the acronym for president of the United States. “For both reasons he cannot be effective SecState & should resign.”

But perhaps the most puzzling part of Mr. Tillerson’s tenure was his poor oversight of the State Department. As a former top business executive, his managerial skills were thought to be his chief asset.

But he failed to quickly pick a trusted team of leaders, left many critical departments without direction and all but paralyzed crucial decision making in the department. He approved one global conclave in Washington just eight days before the event was to start, ensuring that few leaders from around the world were able to attend. He never sat for comprehensive briefings with many of his top diplomats and often failed to consult the department’s experts on countries before he visited them.

The department’s policymaking process devolved into conversations between Mr. Tillerson and a lone top aide, neither of whom had much experience or knowledge about many of the countries they discussed.

Mr. Tillerson became so isolated that even top administration officials like Mr. Pompeo and allies like Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state whose recommendation was crucial to his selection, had trouble penetrating a phalanx of staff to speak to him directly.

“The relationship between top management and the bulk of the State Department was toxic,” said Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, a former senior diplomat and fellow at the Washington Institute who once worked with Mr. Tillerson. “And that was a total mystery because the people at the State Department would work for the devil if he is advancing American interests, which Mr. Tillerson was.”

Foreign diplomats — starting with the British and the French — said Mr. Tillerson neither returned phone calls or set up, with much advance warning, meetings with his counterparts. “Strategic dialogues” with many nations, including nuclear weapons powers like Pakistan, were ended without explanation.

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