World / Politics

Rex Tillerson denies report that he weighed quitting in July

Reuters, AP

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday he never considered resigning and that he was as committed to President Donald Trump’s agenda as much today as he was when he first accepted the offer to serve as the nation’s top diplomat.

“I have never considered leaving this post,” Tillerson said at the State Department. “I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives.”

“My commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson spoke after NBC News reported that Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials intervened to persuade him not to resign during the summer as tensions rose between Trump and Tillerson.

Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson over the weekend when the president tweeted that he told him that he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson’s tenure has been dogged with rumors about his unhappiness with Trump’s policies, but the secretary of state on Wednesday offered a vigorous defense of both the U.S. president and his foreign policy goals.

“President Trump’s foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country. We’re finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories, Tillerson said.

Shortly before Tillerson spoke, Trump tweeted: “NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has played down any tensions between Trump and Tillerson over their apparent split, most recently over North Korea.

Citing 12 current and former senior administration officials and other people close to Trump, the NBC News report said that in July, Pence met with Tillerson in an effort to ease growing discord over policy.

Their meeting came days after Tillerson, in a session with Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials at the Pentagon, openly criticized the president and reportedly called him a “moron,” NBC said, citing three officials familiar with the incident.

In his statement Wednesday, Tillerson didn’t deny that he had called the president a “moron.”

“We don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense,” Tillerson said. “I’m just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration.”

Tillerson, in late July, had weighed whether to return to Washington from a personal trip to Texas but was reassured after discussions with John Kelly, now Trump’s chief of staff, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, the network reported, citing four people with direct knowledge of the exchanges.

Tillerson said publicly in late July that he was “not going anywhere.”

The White House declined to comment to NBC, and a State Department spokesman told the network Tillerson did not consider quitting in July and did not call the president a moron.

Tillerson is not the only Cabinet official to have publicly diverged from the president on policy issues.

Mattis said on Tuesday the United States should consider staying in the Iran nuclear deal unless it was proven that Tehran was not abiding by the agreement or that it was not in the U.S. national interest to do so.

Trump has called Iran’s 2015 deal with six world powers an “embarrassment.”

Mattis has played down any tensions between Trump and Tillerson over their apparent split, most recently over North Korea.

Trump’s White House and State Department have also taken differing stances on other foreign policy issues.

Earlier this year, Trump backed Gulf Arab leaders in their boycott of Qatar even as Tillerson and the Pentagon cautioned against the military, commercial and humanitarian effects of the dispute.