‘Rexit’ by year’s end? Reports suggest Tillerson contemplating resignation

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Washington D.C. - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is reportedly frustrated and disappointed by President Donald Trump so much that he is considering resigning by the end of the year. This is what CNN TV quoted close associates of Tillerson as saying. Tillerson’s acquaintances confirmed that he is very upset in light of the recent interview President Trump gave in which he said that he would not have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he knew that latter would recuse himself from the investigations into Russian interferences. Tillerson believes that Trump's position is unprofessional, which has increased his inclination toward resigning according to CNN, and prompted observers to wait any impending news of such resignation announced by the State Department – in what has now been dubbed as "Rexit".

“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’s deeply engaged in that work," State Department spokeswoman told Al Arabiya English.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Sessions is expected to resign at any moment now after the White House communications director said that the president did not want him to remain in his administration. In a tweet posted on Tuesday, Trump said that Sessions showed weakness in in his attitude towards Hillary Clinton and the case of her leaked emails.

White House marginalizing the State Department

Tillerson’s problems with Trump, or rather the State Department with the White House, may not have stemmed from Trump's controversial and unprecedented statements about the minister himself.

“Tillerson is the captain of a wrecked ship, whose crew is slowly leaving,” says Alex Vatanka, a researcher at the Middle East Institute. All the important issues, from Iran to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the war against ISIS are discussed at the White House and not in the State Department. Tillerson is marginalized both on the international scene and in Washington.

Although both Tillerson and Trump believe that the State Department's budget and bureaucratic weight need to be undermined, the political differences between the White House and the State Department on central issues in the Middle East have increased the resentment of the former CEO of Exxon mobile. Tillerson called on the US to remain neutral during the Qatari crisis saying: “We call on Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to ease the siege on Qatar since there are humanitarian consequences to be considered.” Trump, hours later, issued a dissenting statement in which he strongly supported Saudi Arabia, saying that the Saudi steps are "difficult but necessary." Officials later explained that the dispute between the two men was in tone, not in politics.

US President Donald Trump (L) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wait for a meeting with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and others in the Cabinet Room of the White House June 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. (File photo: AFP)
US President Donald Trump (L) and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wait for a meeting with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in and others in the Cabinet Room of the White House June 30, 2017 in Washington, DC. (File photo: AFP)

Others have disagreed with this explanation. “It is clear that Tillerson is surprised by Trump's position and was not an admirer of the escalation and tried to dissolve the crisis but was not allowed,” said Hardin Lang, a researcher at the Center for American Progress. But in the end, “Tillerson was forced to go into the details of the case.” Another observer said: “Tillerson has to clean up behind the White House and behind the uncalculated tweets of the president”.

On the Iranian case, Tillerson oversees a State Department where many have helped in the nuclear deal and believe it is a worthy achievement. Vatanka asserts that: “the White House is full of political supporters of Trump who have no experience on the Iranian issue and want to punish Iran for its actions in Iraq and the Middle East.”

Tillerson also opposed the president's position on the Paris climate agreement, which the United States withdrew from despite Tillerson’s opposition.

A source at the State Department points to a general feeling of frustration among the staff and the diplomats, and that the employees there cannot rely on Tillerson to protect their jobs or defend them from cuts in the ministry's budget.

The White House’s control over the senior and junior decisions of the State Department is also clear from the president's opposition to Tillerson's intention to appoint Elliott Abrams as his deputy because of Abrams' disapproval – who is a former National Security Council and Defense Department official - of Trump when he was running for presidency.

What happens now?

If Tillerson leaves, his resignation will be one of a series of changes on President Trump’s team. White House spokesman Sean Spicer resigned after opposing the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as Communications Director, while Attorney General Sessions said that he would remain in his job “as long as it is appropriate” despite expectations of his impending resignation.

Trump's legal team, whose main concern is to defend the president in the investigation into the Russian interferences in the past election, has also undergone a change in its administrative hierarchy.

In an interview he gave this spring, Tillerson said that he wanted to retire from Exxon Mobile and spend time with his grandchildren, but his wife convinced him to accept the post offered by Trump.


Muna Shikaki is Al Arabiya News Channel's Washington D.C. correspondent.

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