In his first address to the State Department employees, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson alluded to a “dissent cable” signed by hundreds of diplomats criticizing President Donald Trump’s immigration order.
Tillerson said America’s diplomats are entitled to express political beliefs but said “we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team.”
He added that the election was hotly contested and said he wants U.S. diplomats to apply their skills to adapting to a changing diplomatic situation.
The former Exxon Mobil CEO also said he may make unspecified changes to the State Department, but said his approach will never be “change for the sake of change.”
Tillerson said the first thing he asks himself every morning is whether Americans are safe.
On Wednesday Trump praised his new Secretary of State saying it is “time to bring a clear-eyed focus to foreign affairs.”
Earlier that day Senators voted 56-43 to approve the former Exxon Mobil CEO after Democrats mounted a vocal yet unsuccessful campaign to derail the bid.
“I am confident Rex Tillerson has the ability to be the effective leader the State Department needs,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Corker cast Tillerson’s experience at Exxon Mobil as a plus, saying he had forged “deep relationships” with world leaders.
One of those, with Russian President Vladimir Putin, alarmed his opponents who believed he was too cozy with the Russian leader and wouldn’t push back aggressively enough when Moscow acted against U.S. interests. Tillerson received an honorific — the Order of Friendship — from Putin’s government in 2013.
The same year, Exxon deepened its cooperation with Russian oil company Rosneft to expand an oil drilling project in the Arctic after U.S. sanctions over Ukraine were imposed.
At the time of the sanctions, Russian oil tsar Igor Sechin told Reuters he would miss three things: exploring U.S. culture, the chance to show his children American landscapes and riding motorbikes with Tillerson.
At his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Tillerson said Russia posed a “danger” and had “invaded” Ukraine, and that he would have recommended a far more robust response than Obama mounted after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
On Wednesday the White House maintained a low-key approach to the latest flare-up of violence in eastern Ukraine, where the government accuses Russian-backed forces of stepping up attacks. The restrained tone may reflect the start of a new U.S. approach to dealing with Russia’s cross-border activity, even as top U.S. officials are pledging to support Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Tillerson will need to deal with the fallout from Trump’s executive order on immigration and a temporary travel ban preventing people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. On Wednesday Trump also put Tehran “on notice” after the Iranian military tested a ballistic missile and allied rebels in Yemen attacked a Saudi naval vessel in the Red Sea.
Story by the Associated Press and Reuters.