1 Dec 2017

Trump considers replacing Tillerson with CIA director

7:30 am on 1 December 2017

US President Donald Trump is considering a plan to oust Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has had a strained relationship with his boss over North Korea and other issues, say senior administration officials.

US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in November.

US President Donald Trump speaks alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a Cabinet Meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in November. Photo: AFP

Mr Tillerson would be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo, known as a Trump loyalist, within weeks under a White House plan to carry out the most significant staff shakeup so far of the Trump administration.

Republican Senator Tom Cotton would be tapped to replace Mr Pompeo at the Central Intelligence Agency, the officials told Reuters.

It was not immediately clear whether Mr Trump had given final approval to the latest staff shakeup, but one of the officials said the president asked for the plan to be put together.

Mr Tillerson's long-rumoured departure would end a troubled tenure for the former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive who has been increasingly at odds with Mr Trump over policy challenges such as North Korea and under fire for his planned cuts at the State Department.

Mr Tillerson was reported in October to have privately called Mr Trump a "moron," something which the secretary of state sought to dismiss.

That followed a tweet by Mr Trump a few days earlier that Mr Tillerson should not waste his time by seeking negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear and missile program.

Mr Trump asked John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, to develop the transition strategy and it has already been discussed with other officials, one administration source said.

Under the plan, which was first reported by the New York Times, the staff reshuffle would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward.

Asked if he wanted Mr Tillerson to remain in his job, Mr Trump sidestepped the question on Thursday, telling reporters at the White House: "He's here. Rex is here."

"There are no personnel announcements at this time," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later told reporters.

Mr Tillerson's departure has been widely rumoured for months, with attention focused on Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, as his likely replacement.

But Mr Pompeo, a former member of Congress, has increasingly moved to the forefront after gaining Mr Trump's trust on national security matters.

Mr Tillerson, 65, has spent much of his tenure trying to smooth the rough edges of Mr Trump's unilateralist "America First" foreign policy, with limited success. On several occasions, the U.S. president publicly undercut his diplomatic initiatives.

A source familiar with Mr Tillerson's thinking said Mr Tillerson's original plan when he took the job as top US diplomat, was to leave in February.

"His plan was to make it a year and then find a reason to leave. Who knows if that still holds?" the source said.

Senator Bob Corker, a senior voice in U.S. foreign policy, spoke to Mr Tillerson on Thursday and said the secretary of state was unaware of any plans to oust him.

If carried out, the staff changes would be the latest in a string of departures and firings in Trump's administration in recent months, including his chief of staff, national security advisor and FBI director.

"There's so much churn. It feels like whiplash," a State Department official said.

Fallout from extremist re-tweets continues

Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said Mr Trump was "wrong" to retweet posts from a British far-right group.

But she stressed the "special relationship" between Britain and the US was "in both our nations' interests" and should continue, rejecting rejected calls to cancel a state visit by the US president.

Speaking on a visit to Jordan, she said: "An invitation for a state visit has been extended and has been accepted. We have yet to set a date."

Quizzed about Mr Trump's tweets, she said: "The fact that we work together does not mean that we're afraid to say when we think the United States has got it wrong, and be very clear with them.

"And I'm very clear that retweeting from Britain First was the wrong thing to do."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he thought Mr Trump's state visit - which would see Mr Trump being hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle - was "unlikely to go ahead in the event that he does come to Britain".

He added that Mr Trump would be welcome to visit a mosque in Finsbury Park, in his north London constituency, to learn about the "diversity of our society and the sense of inclusivity".

And he offered the US president some advice on tweeting, saying it was best to "hold yourself back" and "restrict yourself to two or three tweets a day".

On Wednesday the US president retweeted three videos posted by the British far-right group.

When a Downing Street spokesman said he had been "wrong" to do so the president hit back:

"@Theresa_May, don't focus on me, focus on the destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom. We are doing just fine!"

- Reuters / BBC

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