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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Tillerson keeps distance from Trump's race row stance

'We express America's values from the State Department' but when it comes to Donald Trump's values, 'the president speaks for himself', Rex Tillerson told Fox News

Speaking to Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, right, on August 27, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declined to speak for Donald Trump when asked to comment on the president's seesawing response to violence at a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Susan Walsh/AP Photo
Speaking to Fox News anchor Chris Wallace, right, on August 27, 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declined to speak for Donald Trump when asked to comment on the president's seesawing response to violence at a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month. Susan Walsh/AP Photo

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended American values on Sunday after a UN panel criticised the official response to racist violence - but conspicuously declined to speak for President Donald Trump.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mr Tillerson was asked to comment on Mr Trump's seesawing response to violence at a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month and the criticism that he had morally equated neo-Nazis with the individuals protesting against them.

"We express America's values from the State Department" but when it comes to Mr Trump's values, "the president speaks for himself", Mr Tillerson replied.

Mr Trump triggered outrage earlier this month when he suggested both sides were at fault after unrest in Charlottesville in which a woman was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protestors.

The president went on to say there were "very fine people" on "both sides" of the protest, which began when torch-bearing young men in neo-Nazi regalia gathered to protect a statue of a Confederate general.

His response was celebrated in white nationalist circles, but drew criticism from across the mainstream political spectrum and - with the intervention of a UN anti-racism committee - from around the world.

Asked on Fox News if Mr Trump's stance had made it harder for Washington's top diplomat to promote US values around the world, Mr Tillerson said: "We represent the American people, their commitment to freedom and to equal treatment to people the world over, and that message has never change."

Pressed on whether Mr Trump had undermined that message, Mr Tillerson said: "I don't believe anyone doubts the American people's values or the commitment of the American government or the government's agencies to advancing those values and defending those values."

"And the president's values?" the interviewer Chris Wallace pressed, giving him another chance to defend Mr Trump.

"The president speaks for himself, Chris," Mr Tillerson replied.

"Are you separating yourself from that, sir?" Mr Wallace persisted.

To which Mr Tillerson replied: "I gave my own comments on our values as well in the speech I gave at the State Department last week."

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