Tillerson Denies He Considered Quitting -- WSJ

By Felicia Schwartz Features Dow Jones Newswires

Secretary of state affirms support for Trump's policies amid reports of differences

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This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (October 5, 2017).

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he hasn't contemplated resigning and praised President Donald Trump's foreign policy, calling Mr. Trump "smart."

"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.

A former Exxon Corp. chief executive who had never served in government before assuming his current job, Mr. Tillerson has had public and private differences with Mr. Trump over key national security issues, including the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, the administration's talks with North Korea, a dispute among Persian Gulf countries, and the Paris climate accord.

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But in an abruptly scheduled news conference, 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.

Later Wednesday, Mr. Trump said that he has "total confidence" in Mr. Tillerson.

Mr. Tillerson declined to specifically address an NBC report that he referred to Mr. Trump as a moron, describing such talk as "petty nonsense."

"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."

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said later that Mr. Tillerson "did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States."

Mr. Tillerson said he didn't consult with Mr. Trump before the news conference, but Ms. Nauert said the two spoke afterward, adding, "They're all good." She said the White House didn't ask Mr. Tillerson to make a public statement, but that he opted to do it because "it was the right thing to do."

In Mr. Tillerson's remarks, he lauded the administration agenda, singling 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 hasn't consulted with Mr. Tillerson before making public-policy statements, officials have said. However, Mr. Tillerson has formed close relationships with Mr. Mattis and Mr. Trump's chief of staff, John Kelly.

"I'm just thankful that he's still there," Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said of Mr. Tillerson. "I think Secretary Tillerson, Mattis, and [White House Chief of Staff] Kelly are those people that help separate our country from chaos."

Mr. Tillerson addressed a question on one policy area that has proven divisive between him and Mr. Trump -- Iran. Mr. Trump faces an Oct. 15 deadline to tell Congress whether Iran is complying with the 2015 international nuclear agreement and whether the deal is in the security interests of the U.S.

Mr. Trump has twice issued such a certification, which is required every 90 days, but in July came close to saying otherwise, agreeing to certification only after a heated administration debate.

Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal shortly afterward that he expected he would go against the recommendations of advisers if necessary to withhold Iran's certification in October.

"We're going to give him a couple of options on how to move forward to advance the important policy towards Iran," Mr. Tillerson said Wednesday, adding the agreement "represents only a small part of the many issues that we need to deal with when it comes to the Iranian relationship."

Administration officials have gamed out various scenarios on the nuclear deal, with some involving certification and others involving de-certification. Some at the State Department would like to see Congress amend the law that requires Mr. Trump to certify Iran's compliance every 90 days.

Ms. Haley and Republican lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), have proposed de-certifying Iran's compliance to send a signal to other parties to the agreement -- the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia.

"The president should decline to certify....based on the long catalogue of the regime's crimes and perfidy against the United States as well as the deal's inherent flaws and weaknesses," Mr. Cotton said Tuesday at a think tank in Washington. "The world needs to know we're serious, we are willing to walk away, and we're willing to reimpose sanctions and a lot more than that."

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 05, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)