In October, NBC news reported that Tillerson called the president a “moron,” in a meeting. Asked about the startling slight, Tillerson danced and ducked but never actually denied it. The brouhaha led Trump to suggest the two should face off and measure IQs.
“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win,” he said in an interview with Forbes.
WHEN “TALKS” ARE NOT “NEGOTIATIONS”
South Korean officials’ announcement that the president was willing to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un stunned the world. Especially confounding was how it came just hours after his own top diplomat told reporters the two sides were far from sitting at the same table.
“I don’t know yet — until we are able to meet ourselves face to face with representatives of North Korea — whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations,” Tillerson had said.
After the announcement, Tillerson tried to draw a distinction between “talks” with North Korea and “negotiations.” Left unanswered was what there was for the two countries — still technically at war — would have to discuss if not a deal to address concerns about the North’s nuclear weapons program.
It was only in October that Trump publicly rebuked Tillerson for his efforts with Pyongyang, tweeting he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…”
When tapped to be the country’s top diplomat, Tillerson brought long-standing relationships with Russia forged during his time as CEO of Exxon Mobil. But his tone about the Kremlin has changed with his new job. Just this week Tillerson said the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain “came from Russia,” and that he had become “extremely concerned” about the regime there after spending a year trying to narrow differences with the Kremlin.
“Instead what we’ve seen is a pivot on their part to be more aggressive,” Tillerson said. “And this is very, very concerning to me and others that there seems to be a certain unleashing of activity that we don’t fully understand what the objective behind that is.”
His harsh words came as President Donald Trump’s critics regularly accuse his administration of failing to stand up to the Kremlin, especially over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Just Tuesday, Trump praised a GOP draft report that challenges an assessment by U.S. intelligence that Russian meddling in the 2016 election was an effort to help Trump.
President Donald Trump acknowledged that the things he and Tillerson disagreed on included the Iran deal. Trump berated the deal on the campaign trail and has long bristled at the requirement that he repeatedly certify Iran is complying with it. Tillerson “felt a little bit differently, so we were not really thinking the same,” Trump said. Tillerson had privately encouraged Trump over the last year to stay in the Iran nuclear deal, believing that pulling out would be a greater risk to national security.
CLIMATE AND THE PARIS ACCORD
While at Exxon, Tillerson had expressed his support for the Paris climate accord and had urged Trump to stay in it to maintain U.S. influence on the issue. But in June, the president pulled the U.S. out. “My view didn’t change,” Tillerson said at a hearing on the State Department’s budget a few weeks later. “My views were heard out. I respect that the president heard my views, but I respect the decision he’s taken.”