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Trump Fires Tillerson, Picks CIA Chief Pompeo to Succeed Him


FILE - A combination photo shows U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L), and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo.
FILE - A combination photo shows U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L), and Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo.

President Donald Trump has fired his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and picked CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace him.

Trump has also nominated Gina Haspel, the current deputy director at the Central Intelligence Agency, to replace Pompeo at the CIA.

Hours later, Tillerson appeared at the State Department and said "effective at the end of the day" he is delegating all authority to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. Tillerson said he is formally stepping down at the end of the month and stressed the importance of a smooth transition to his successor.

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​Trump told reporters Tuesday morning he and Tillerson “have been talking about this for a long time,” and they “got along quite well”, but they have a different mindset and different thinking.

Departure Messaging

Trump's differences with Tillerson appeared to extend to the logistics of his announced departure, with the State Department and White House issuing contradictory accounts over when the secretary was fired.

A senior administration official tells VOA News that “it’s not true” that Tillerson learned of his firing via Twitter, insisting that the secretary of state, while in Africa, was informed by the White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, last Friday that he was being removed from the Cabinet post he has held for 14 months.

Kelly “followed up” with another phone call on Saturday, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of not being identified.

Tillerson cut short his five-nation trip by one day and reporters who traveled with him on his plane say the secretary spoke of continuing his diplomatic work, giving no indication he was being fired.

The undersecretary for public affairs at the State Department, Steve Goldstein, offered a different account of Tillerson's departure.

"The Secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason (for his firing), but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein was fired by the White House shortly after issuing the statement.

Tillerson announced he was handing over his duties at the end of the day to Sullivan and would be formally stepping down at the end of the month. He stressed the importance of a smooth transition to Pompeo.

Impact on North Korea, Iran?

In remarks to reporters Tuesday, President Trump highlighted his differences with Tillerson on Iran and North Korea.

Trump pointed out he did not discuss much with Tillerson regarding his decision to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “I made that decision by myself, Rex wasn’t, as you know, in the country. I made the North Korea decision with consultations from many people, but I made that decision by myself,” he said.

A senior White House official also said Tuesday Tillerson's ouster occurred at this time because Trump wanted to "have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations."

The president said they also disagreed on the 2015 Iran nuclear accord.

“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it’s okay. I want to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently, so we were not really thinking the same.”

During the Obama administration, the U.S. and other major powers struck the deal in which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of international economic sanctions. President Trump has repeatedly criticized the agreement as a bad deal and threatened to dismantle it.

VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching contributed to this report.