WASHINGTON: US media was abuzz with speculation on Thursday about the ouster of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson amid strains in ties with President Trump, although the White House tried to play down the reports saying there was no personnel announcement at this time.
All leading newspapers, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, quoted sources close to President Trump, said that the White House has developed a plan to remove Tillerson and replace him with the CIA Director, Mike Pompeo.
Ties have been reportedly strained for some time between President Trump and the US Secretary of State, the former Exxon Mobil Chief Executive, as the two seemed at odds over host of international issues including North Korea, nuclear deal with Iran and the ongoing diplomatic standoff in the Middle East.
“Mr. Tillerson’s departure has been widely anticipated for months, but associates have said he was intent on finishing out the year to retain whatever dignity he could. Even so, an end-of-year exit would make his time in office the shortest of any secretary of state whose tenure was not ended by a change in presidents in nearly 120 years,” the New York Time report said.
Earlier this month, the online news magazine POLITICO had reported that the CIA Director Pompeo had emerged as the favorite to replace Mr. Tillerson. Media reports said that Senator Tom Cotton would likely replace Pompeo as the CIA Director.
The US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters that the Secretary remained committed to doing this (Secretary of State) job. “He does serve at the pleasure of the president. This is a job that he enjoys. He’s continuing with his meetings. He’s continuing with his calls,” she was quoted as saying by a media report.
According to the New York Times report, quoting unnamed officials, Senator Cotton, a key ally of President Trump on the national security matters, had indicated that he would accept the job of the CIA Director, if offered.
“It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump had given final approval to the plan developed by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, but the president has been said to have soured on Mr. Tillerson and in general is ready to make a change at the State Department,” said the NYT report.
The White House Press Secretary, Sarah Huckabee, though issued a statement that there were no personal announcement at “this time”, she did not deny that there was a transition plan in mind. “When the president loses confidence in someone they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in,” Ms. Sanders told reporters at a briefing later in the day.
Before assuming the office, Mr. Tillerson had no prior experience in government, politics or the military. Since taking over the charge, many career diplomats have quit.