US President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and picked CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his new chief diplomat.
The decisions were made public in a morning tweet from Trump, capping months of friction between the president and Tillerson on policy issues, including those related to North Korea, Russia and Iran.
“We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things,” Trump told reporters later in the day.
“When you look at the Iran deal: I think it’s terrible, I guess he thinks it was OK. I wanted to break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently,” he said.
At the State Department, a visibly emotional Tillerson said Trump called him around noon from Air Force One, hours after he was summarily dismissed via Twitter, Reuters reports.
Tillerson said his tenure ends on March 31 but he would delegate his responsibilities to John Sullivan, deputy secretary of state, at the end of Tuesday.
“What is most important is to ensure an orderly and smooth transition during a time that the country continues to face significant policy and national security challenges,” he told reporters.
Tillerson pointedly declined to thank Trump personally or praise him, as he has done on previous occasions, Reuters noted.
The rare firing of the United States’ top diplomat came after a series of public rifts between Trump and Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil chief executive, over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran.
The tensions peaked last fall amid reports Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” and considered resigning. Tillerson never denied using the word.
Trump announced Tuesday that Pompeo, who currently serves as CIA director, will take over Tillerson’s job.
The president said he and Pompeo have “a similar thought process”, unlike the case with Tillerson.
Pompeo, a former Army officer who represented a Kansas district in the House of Representatives before taking the CIA job, is seen as a Trump loyalist.
Tuesday’s announcement marks the biggest shakeup of Trump’s Cabinet since he took office in January 2017.
It came as his administration works toward a potential meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Critics expressed dismay at the decision to swap out top diplomats so soon before the meeting and worried that Pompeo would encourage Trump to scrap the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and be hawkish on North Korea.
Observers also fear the move would sow more instability in the volatile Trump administration.
Reuters cited senior White House officials as saying that Trump wanted his new team in place before any summit with Kim, who invited the US president to meet by May after months of escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Trump chose the CIA’s deputy director, Gina Haspel, to replace Pompeo there.
A veteran CIA clandestine officer, Haspel is backed by many in the US intelligence community but is regarded warily by some in Congress for her involvement in the agency’s “black site” detention facilities, Reuters noted.
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