The U.S. State Department flatly denied Tuesday that Secretary Rex Tillerson might be considering leaving his job.
The first question department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was asked at an on-camera news briefing was whether it was true that Tillerson was thinking about resigning or leaving the administration early.
“That is false,” Nauert said. “We have spoken with the secretary. The secretary has been very clear. He intends to stay here at the State Department. We have a lot of work that is left to be done ahead of us. He recognizes that he is deeply engaged in that work. We have meetings scheduled, he has meetings scheduled for the rest of the week here in Washington.”
Then she added: “He does, however, serve at the pleasure of the president, just as any Cabinet official would.”
When reporters noted Tillerson did not have any public events on his schedule for Tuesday, Nauert said he was taking a few days off that had been scheduled in advance.
State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond has also strongly denied any reports Tillerson may be leaving early, saying the thought of quitting has never crossed his mind and that there is plenty of work to do.
CNN reported Monday that Tillerson had told close associates he was determined to stay at the helm of the State Department until at least the end of the year, but was growing increasingly frustrated by foreign policy differences with President Donald Trump.
Trump and Tillerson have expressed different views about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate change accord, Iran’s compliance with the international nuclear deal, and the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.
In June, several media outlets reported an alleged showdown between Tillerson and a White House official in charge of personnel over the White House’s reported thwarting of Tillerson’s picks for a number of critical assistant secretary-level positions at the State Department, which remain unfilled six months into the Trump administration.
Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state who is now with the Wilson Center, a nonpartisan global policy center in Washington, told VOA the Trump administration was being run differently than any other he had seen.
“I worked for the State Department for 25 years, six secretaries of state. I have never seen anything quite like this,” he said.
Usually, Miller said, a president will find one person — “the secretary of state, almost always” — in whom to invest authority for foreign policy matters. But in the Trump administration, he said, there are multiple power centers.
Miller noted that Trump has assigned the Middle East peace process to his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who this week answered questions from Senate and House committees as part of those panels’ investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Kushner “has been given the authority over perhaps the one issue that secretaries of state, no matter how difficult it is, pride themselves in wanting to try, which is the Arab-Israeli issue,” Miller said. “Yet that has been removed from his purview.”
Speculation about Tillerson comes as Trump continues his verbal attacks on his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, expressing disappointment in him for recusing himself in the investigations into possible collusion between Trump officials and Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.
CNN reported that Tillerson was one of many officials who viewed the president’s public rebukes of Sessions as unprofessional.
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