March 13, 2018 / 6:01 PM / 8 days ago

Factbox: Trump and Tillerson disagreed on key diplomatic issues

(Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, saying the two had a “different mindset” on key diplomatic issues and “we disagreed on things” including the international nuclear accord with Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, holds a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 20, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Here are some issues on which Tillerson, former chief executive officer at Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), differed with Trump.


Tillerson encouraged Trump to maintain the international nuclear deal with Iran reached during Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration. The 2015 deal gave Iran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program. Trump on Tuesday told reporters, “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thinks it was OK. I wanted to break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not thinking the same.” Trump has vowed to stop waiving U.S. sanctions unless European allies agreed to strengthen the deal’s terms by consenting to a side agreement that would effectively eliminate provisions that allow Iran to gradually resume some advanced atomic work. Trump also wants tighter restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program.


Trump last year used bellicose rhetoric toward North Korea and threatened “fire and fury,” ratcheting up tensions with the reclusive nuclear-armed country. At that time, Tillerson championed diplomacy, a path the president publicly derided. The confrontation centered on U.S. concerns over North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs. A day after Tillerson said “lines of communications” remained with Pyongyang, Trump mocked him. “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump wrote on Twitter, using his nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Trump this month made a complete reversal toward diplomacy. Just hours after Tillerson during a trip to Africa told reporters that any denuclearization negotiations with North Korea were likely “a long ways off,” Trump agreed to meet with Kim in an unprecedented meeting of the leaders of the two countries. That decision left Tillerson looking completely out of touch with the White House.


After British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday it was “highly likely” that Moscow was responsible for the poisoning in England of Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders pointedly declined during a news briefing to blame Russia for the incident. Hours later, Tillerson issued a statement saying the United States had “full confidence” in Britain’s assessment about Russia’s culpability. “We agree that those responsible - both those who committed the crime and those who ordered it - must face appropriately serious consequences,” Tillerson said. He was fired the next morning. On Tuesday, Trump equivocated on Russia’s role.


Tillerson took a hard line on Russia in what appeared to be an effort to reassure U.S. allies and others concerned about Trump’s relationship with Putin, his reticence to impose congressionally mandated sanctions on Moscow and his refusal to explicitly condemn what U.S. intelligence agencies concluded was Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Tillerson has said U.S. sanctions imposed for Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea will remain in place until it is returned to Ukraine. In January, he said Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, “ultimately bears responsibility” for suspected Syrian government chemical weapons attacks on Syrian civilians.


    In June 2017, Tillerson called on Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt to ease their blockade against Qatar, a U.S. ally that hosts an American military air base that those countries accused of backing Iran and Islamist extremists. Tillerson was undercut by Trump, who called Qatar “a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”


    Tillerson supported staying in the international accord reached in Paris in 2015, a deal in which Obama had played a key role. Trump in June 2017 announced he would take the United States out of the pact, following his nationalist “America First” instincts and siding with skeptics of climate change. Tillerson said the United States would continue efforts to reduce its emissions despite Trump’s action. “It was a policy decision and I think it’s important that everyone recognize the United States has a terrific record on reducing our own greenhouse gas emissions,” Tillerson said at the time.


    A media report in October that Tillerson had openly criticized Trump and referred to him as a “moron” during in a session with the president’s national security team and Cabinet officials at the Pentagon further alienated Tillerson from Trump.

    Compiled by Will Dunham, Yara Bayoumy, Yeganeh Torbati and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by David Gregorio

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