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White House to replace Secretary of State with CIA director

01 December, 2017

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WASHINGTON: Senior administration officials confirmed on Thursday that the White House was considering a plan to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, the US media reported.

Reports of the expected change, first revealed by The New York Times on Thursday morning, got a boost when President Donald Trump ignored an opportunity to clarify the situation.

Asked before a Thursday morning meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain, whether he wants Mr Tillerson to remain as secretary of state, Mr Trump told reporters, that he was still “here, Rex is here.”

The New York Times reported that Mr Tillerson would be shown the door because his “relationship with President Trump has been strained” and The Washington Post reported that Mr Pompeo would replace him because he was “one of the most personally loyal and politically savvy members” of the Trump security team. Other media outlets noted that reports of Mr Tillerson’s disagreement with President Trump have been circulating since July 20, when NBC News reported that the secretary stunned other members of the Trump team by calling his boss “a moron” at a Pentagon meeting.

The reports claimed that the White House has been working on the replacement plan since then and White House chief of staff John F. Kelly was given the task of finding a suitable person to replace Mr Tillerson. The proposal to bring up the CIA chief came from Mr Kelly’s office and “has broad support within Mr Trump’s inner circle,” the reports added.

The Washington Post, however, said that it’s unclear whether Mr Trump had signed off on the plan yet. The report warned that Mr Trump has been known to “change his mind about personnel and other matters” before finalising decisions with public announcements.

The New York Times reported that Mr Kelly has also proposed brining Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, to the CIA to replace Mr Pompeo after he moves to the State Department.

Most media outlets reported that since July, Mr Tillerson’s departure has been widely expected and Mr Pompeo has been speculated about as a top contender to succeed him at the State Department.

The reports claimed that Mr Tillerson’s “highhanded and tone-deaf manner” also helped his adversaries by alienating both his one-time allies at the White House and his subordinates at the State Department.

Earlier this week, North America’s largest radio network, NPR, did a news feature on Mr Tillerson, noting that while the secretary claims he’s redesigning the State Department to make it more efficient, “his critics say he’s gutting it at a time when the US needs diplomats and development experts to promote national security interests.”

In Congress, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are sounding the alarm, the report added.

Mr Tillerson accompanied President Trump on part of his Asian trip earlier this month, and the pair gave no obvious sign of estrangement.

Mr Tillerson also has kept up a steady schedule of public appearances.

AFP adds: The White House responded to speculation about Rex Tillerson’s imminent departure as Secretary of State on Thursday, saying he was still in the job and “there are no personnel announcements at this time.”

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