After a series of public spats, United States President Donald Trump on Tuesday fired his beleaguered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job!” Trump tweeted, in a surprise announcement.
Trump also announced the appointment of Gina Haspel, the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, to head the agency -- the first woman selected for the top post.
Tillerson, who was travelling to Africa, had to return in midway citing “the demands of work and the need to be in Washington for in-person meetings.”
The 65-year-old former Exxon Mobil chief executive and the president had strained relations and the two had differences over a host of issues including the US policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran.
Later, Trump said he personally took the decision to fire Tillerson as he had differences with him on key issues.
“I made the decision (to fire him) by myself,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawns, minutes before he boarded Marine One for Joint Base Andrews Air Force for flying on his maiden trip to California.
Responding to questions, Trump said he had differences with Tillerson on key issues including Iran.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along, actually, quite well but we disagreed on things. 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,” Trump said.
“So, we were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well,” he said.
When asked if he talked with Tillerson on North Korea, he replied, “No, I really didn’t discuss it very much with him, honestly. I made that decision by myself. Rex wasn’t, as you know, in this country. I made the North Korea decision with consultation from many people but I made that decision by myself.”
Tillerson, who had never previously held political office, was appointed as Secretary of State on February 1 last year.
He was forced to convene a press conference in October last to deny reports that he was considering quitting, though he did not comment on a report that he had called Trump a moron after a meeting at the Pentagon.
Trump said he has worked with Pompeo now for quite some time. “Tremendous energy, tremendous intellect, we’re always on the same wavelength. The relationship has been very good and that’s what I need as secretary of state,” he said.
“I am confident he (Pompeo) is the right person for the job at this critical juncture. 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,” Trump said.
“His experience in the military, Congress, and as leader of the CIA have prepared him well for his new role and I urge his swift confirmation,” the US president added.
The position needs to be confirmed by the US Senate.
“I think Mike Pompeo will be a truly great secretary of state. I have total confidence in him,” Trump said.
Trump also thanked Tillerson for his service.
The former oil chief forged multibillion-dollar deals with Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft, and was awarded the Order of Friendship by the Kremlin in 2013.
Meanwhile, Tillerson’s spokesperson said the Secretary of State is “unaware of the reason” for his removal.
“The Secretary did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted,” Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein said.
Responding to a question, Goldstein said Tillerson “had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues.”
Trump also appointed Gina Haspel as the new CIA Director, terming her elevation as “a historic milestone”.
“Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” he tweeted.
“Mike and Gina have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect,” Trump said.
According at a senior White House official, the president wanted to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations.
The official was responding to a question on the timing of Trump’s announcement.
Pompeo said he is “deeply grateful” to Trump for permitting him to serve as CIA Director and for this opportunity to serve as Secretary of State.
“His leadership has made America safer and I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America’s prosperity,” he said.
Pompeo said if confirmed, he looks forward to guiding the world’s finest diplomatic corps in formulating and executing the President’s foreign policy.
Haspel has been an officer of the CIA for 30 years. She served as Pompeo’s deputy for the past year.
“I am grateful to President Trump for the opportunity, and humbled by his confidence in me, to be nominated to be the next Director of the CIA,” Haspel said.