By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said there was no truth in reports that the White House had a plan to fire him and replace him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo.
Directly addressing the issue at a news conference at NATO, Tillerson dismissed last week’s reports that have overshadowed his week-long trip to Europe, as allies yearn for stability in U.S. foreign policy.
“This is a narrative that keeps coming up about every six weeks and I would say you need to get some new sources because your story keeps being wrong,” he told reporters when asked whether the White House was pushing him out.
While Trump said last week he was not leaving and Tillerson said the reports were “laughable”, Trump has also said he alone determines U.S. foreign policy, saying in a tweet on Friday: “I call the final shots.”
In a trip that will also take him to Vienna and Paris, Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive who has been at odds with Trump over issues such as North Korea, has sought to reassure European governments and U.S. diplomats that he is in control.
In Brussels on Tuesday, Tillerson said the U.S. State Department, which still has top positions unmanned, was “in a much better position to advance America’s interests around the world than we were 10 months ago.”
Under the White House plan reported by Reuters and other media last week, Tillerson would be replaced within weeks by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a Trump loyalist and foreign policy hard-liner, under a White House plan to carry out the most significant staff shake-up so far of the Trump administration.
U.S. Republican Senator Tom Cotton, one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress, would be tapped to replace Pompeo at the Central Intelligence Agency, officials said.
Tillerson, 65, has spent much of his tenure trying to smooth the rough edges of the “America First” foreign policy that has alarmed Trump’s allies, but the president has publicly undercut the secretary of state’s diplomatic initiatives.
At the EU and NATO this week, Tillerson espoused a more traditional U.S. foreign policy, defending the Iran nuclear deal agreed by world powers in 2015, warning of a more assertive Russia and saying he had become “quite close” with Germany’s foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott, Editing by Gabriela Baczynska and Ken Ferris)