WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he has not contemplated resigning his job and praised President Donald Trump's foreign policy, calling Mr. Trump "smart."
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"I have never considered leaving this post," Mr. Tillerson said.
Mr. Tillerson spoke in the State Department's Treaty Room to deny longstanding rumors about his possible resignation after a report Wednesday morning that he referred to Mr. Trump as a "moron" and had to be talked out of quitting by Vice President Mike Pence and others.
Mr. Tillerson said that he supports Mr. Trump's "America first" approach to foreign policy and extolled "what we have accomplished... as a team." He said that suggestions to the contrary were an attempt to divide administration officials.
A former Exxon Corp. chief executive who had never served in government before assuming his current job, Mr. Tillerson has had public differences with Mr. Trump over key national security issues, including the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and the administration's talks with North Korea.
Despite conflicting public statements on those issues, White House and State Department officials have insisted there have been no ruptures over policy.
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Mr. Tillerson in his appearance Wednesday declined to specifically address an NBC report that he referred to Mr. Trump as a moron, describing such talk as "petty nonsense."
Mr. Trump in a Twitter message afterward said: "The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!"
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked by reporters in Las Vegas whether Mr. Trump has confidence in Mr. Tillerson, said: "As we've said many times before, if the president doesn't have confidence in somebody, they will no longer be in their position."
Mr. Tillerson said he did not consult with Mr. Trump before the abruptly scheduled news conference, but devoted a significant portion of his remarks to praising the president and his agenda.
"Let me tell you what I've learned about this president, whom I did not know before taking this office," Mr. Tillerson said. "He loves this country. He puts Americans and America first. He's smart, he demands results wherever he goes and he holds those around him accountable for whether they've done the job he's asked them to do."
He praised Mr. Trump's foreign-policy approach, even though Mr. Tillerson has often disagreed with it publicly and privately, such as in Mr. Trump's decision to leave the Paris climate accord.
"His agenda has given voice to millions who completely felt abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries," he said. "President Trump's foreign-policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country."
He singled out Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis for particular praise.
Mr. Tillerson and Ms. Haley also have been at odds in recent months, as Ms. Haley frequently doesn't consult with Mr. Tillerson before making publicly policy statements, officials have said.
"While I'm new to Washington, I have learned there are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart in an effort to undermine president Trump's own agenda," Mr. Tillerson said. "I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."
Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 04, 2017 13:13 ET (17:13 GMT)