Rex Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday, officially placing him at the head of the State Department.
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Here are some of the highlights from the former Exxon Mobil (XOM) CEO’s confirmation hearing, as the new Secretary of State presented a tougher stance on Russia and pledged greater support for Israel.
1. On Russia
Tillerson faced criticism from some lawmakers over his ties to Russia, where Exxon had negotiated a major joint venture with the country’s state-run oil company. That deal was derailed by sanctions imposed during the Obama administration.
But Tillerson pushed back, saying he would keep sanctions in place until the Trump administration develops a longer-term strategy to deal with Russia. He also argued that President Obama should have provided military and intelligence assets to Ukraine in order to deter further Russian aggression after it annexed Crimea in 2014.
“The use of sanctions…can be a powerful tool as long as they’re constructed to be effective,” Tillerson said.
Tillerson also supported cooperation with Russia, when possible, on the fight against terror. However, “Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions,” he added.
2. On Cyber Warfare
In addition to fighting terrorism, Tillerson said the State Department should help craft a comprehensive strategy to combat cyber-attacks from countries like Russia and China.
He argued that U.S. government entities and corporations are vulnerable because the nation has not maintained appropriate IT infrastructure and defenses.
3. On Israel
President Donald Trump has said the U.S. could move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a sign that his administration will seek closer ties to its Middle Eastern ally.
“Israel is, has always been, and remains our most important ally in the region,” Tillerson told lawmakers.
He criticized a United Nations resolution that determined Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a “violation of international law.” The resolution passed after the Obama administration chose to abstain from voting, allowing it to move forward. Israel has urged President Trump to fight the resolution.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also called for U.S. support in condemning Iran for a recent missile test. On Thursday, National Security Adviser Michael Flynn said the U.S. is “officially putting Iran on notice.”
Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the White House later this month.
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