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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Tillerson has no intention to resign but refuses to deny Trump insult

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said he would remain in his job after “erroneous reports” that he came close to resigning.

In another awkward moment in the Donald Trump presidency, Mr Tillerson on Wednesday made a special appearance at the State Department to deny that he was on the verge of quitting during the summer.

Vice president Mike Pence, defence secretary James Mattis and White House chief of staff John Kelly had to have a “pep talk” with Mr Tillerson and convince him not to resign two months ago, NBC news reported on Wednesday.

Mr Tillerson had openly disparaged the president and referred to him as a “moron,” after a meeting in July 20 at the Pentagon with Mr Trump’s national security team and cabinet officials, the report said

In his statement, Mr Tillerson denied the resignation part of the report but not calling Mr Trump a moron.

“The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain the secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post,” he said. The former Exxon Mobil CEO praised Mr Trump as someone “who loves his country”.

“He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart,” Mr Tillerson said. “I have never considered leaving this post.”

Asked if he had called Mr Trump “a moron”, he said: “I’m just – I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that.”

The two men have had public differences on America’s approach to North Korea, the Qatar dispute, the Iran deal, the Paris climate agreement and trade with Mexico.

Noah Rothman of Commentary Magazine, told The National that Mr Tillerson’s statement is symbiotic of “his lackluster tenure at the State Department”.

“It remains a mystery as to why the State Department's undersecretary positions are not yet filled,” he said.

But if Mr Tillerson had resigned, “it would have been a disaster for the administration and a blow to America's diplomatic objectives,” Mr Rothman said.

“The State Department would have joined Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services as agencies without a political appointee at the helm, and it would have remained that way for some time.”

Aaron Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said Mr Tillerson’s statement was “extraordinary”.

“Clearly he wants to stay but it will be tough to function when president doesn't empower him as sole source of authority and his public voice on foreign policy”, Mr Miller, who served in six US administrations, said.

Mr Trump shrugged off the NBC report on Twitter.

“The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!” he said.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/915596990674849792

But only five days ago, the US president undermined his secretary of state and blunted his diplomatic efforts on North Korea.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man...,” he said.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/914497877543735296

Mr Tillerson's refusal to deny calling Mr Trump a moron “confirmed by omission that he does not think highly of our president; a hostility that by all indications appears to be mutual,” Mr Rothman said.

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