Rex Tillerson waves goodbye after making a farewell speech at the State Department.—AP
Rex Tillerson waves goodbye after making a farewell speech at the State Department.—AP

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that he has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and is replacing him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo, who is known for his tough views on Pakistan.

Once again Mr Trump used the social media platform Twitter to announce a major decision.

“Mike Pompeo, director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all,” the president tweeted.

In December last year, Mr Pompeo warned Pakistan that if it did not eliminate the alleged safe havens inside its territory, the United States would do “everything we can” to destroy them.

The termination of Mr Tillerson’s services caught even the White House staff by surprise.

“Just the day before, a White House spokesman berated a reporter for suggesting there was any kind of split between Mr Tillerson and the White House because of disparate comments on Russian responsibility for a poison attack in Britain,” The New York Times pointed out.

The Washington Post, however, reported that Mr Tillerson was informed on Friday he would be dismissed, although “the news was not conveyed in person by Mr Trump”.

CNN claimed that Mr Tillerson was “notified of the official termination in Mr Trump’s tweet on Tuesday morning”. Secretary Tillerson cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington. “I felt like, look, I just need to get back,” he told reporters aboard his plane.

MIKE Pompeo, named successor to ousted secretary of state Rex Tillerson.—AP
MIKE Pompeo, named successor to ousted secretary of state Rex Tillerson.—AP

Undersecretary for Public Dip­lomacy Steve Goldstein later told reporters that Secretary Tillerson did not speak to Mr Trump and was unaware of the reason behind his firing.

But hours after his tweet, President Trump gave his own version of the termination, saying: “Rex and I have been talking about this a long time.”

Talking to reporters at the White House before leaving for California, he specifically mentioned the Iran nuclear deal as an example of disagreement with his top diplomat.

“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible; I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently,” Mr Trump said.

When a reporter asked Mr Trump if he fired Mr Tillerson because he called him a moron at a Pentagon meeting in October last year, the president replied: “Fran­kly, I get along well with Rex… I think Rex will be much happier now. I really appreciate his service.”

But the New York Times cited several “profound disagreements” between the president and his foreign policy adviser for the undoing of a close personal relationship that encouraged Mr Trump to bring a businessman as his first secretary of state.

“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… Mr Tillerson believed in dialogue to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis, but Mr Trump repeatedly threatened military options,” the newspaper noted.

Last fall, President Trump gave Mr Tillerson till January to complete the peace process with North Korea. But on Tuesday, a senior administration official told journalists that Mr Trump replaced Mr Tillerson to have a new team in place before upcoming talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, by May.

During his brief interaction with the media on his termination order, President Trump quickly moved from Mr Tillerson to his replacement. “We were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process,” he said.

“I respect his intellect… we have a very good relationship for whatever reason, chemistry, whatever it is — why do people get along? I’ve always, right from the beginning, from day one, I’ve gotten along well with Mike Pompeo… we’ve had a very good chemistry right from the beginning.”

Mr Pompeo, a member of the US House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017, was associated with the ultra-right Tea Party movement within the Republican Party. He became the CIA chief on Jan 24, 2017.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2018