US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during the 24th Ministerial Council of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) at the Hofburg palace in Vienna on Dec 7, 2017. (RONALD ZAK / POOL / AFP)
US President Donald Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday after a series of public rifts over policy on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Russia and Iran, replacing his chief diplomat with loyalist CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The biggest shakeup of Trump's Cabinet since he took office in January 2017 was announced by the president on Twitter as his administration prepares for an unprecedented meeting with the leader of the DPRK.
We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things
Donald Trump, US President
Trump tapped the CIA's deputy director, Gina Haspel, to replace Pompeo at the intelligence agency.
Tillerson's departure caps months of friction between the Republican president and the 65-year-old former Exxon Mobil chief executive. The tensions peaked last fall amid reports Tillerson had called Trump a "moron" and considered resigning.
"We've been talking about this for a long time," Trump said on the White House lawn on Tuesday. "We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things."
He cited the Iran nuclear deal as an example of disagreements with Tillerson and said he and Pompeo have "a similar thought process."
Senior State Department officials said Tillerson was unaware of why Trump pushed him out and that he had intended to stay in the job.
On Monday, Tillerson blamed Russia for the poisonings in England of a former Russian double agent and his daughter. Earlier, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had refrained from saying Moscow was responsible.
A senior White House official said Trump asked Tillerson to step down on Friday but did not want to make it public while he was on a trip to Africa. Trump's Twitter announcement came only a few hours after Tillerson landed in Washington after the trip, which had been cut short.
Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, May 11, 2017. (Jim Watson / AFP)
The official said Trump works well with Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, and wanted him in place before the US president's planned talks with DPRK leader Kim Jong-un and trade negotiations.
Tillerson had no diplomatic or political experience before becoming secretary of state. He appeared out of the loop last week when Trump announced he would meet with Kim.
Stocks pared gains on the Tillerson news, but then stabilized. S&P futures were last up 0.3 percent.
"Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!" Trump said on Twitter.
Tillerson joined a long list of senior officials who have either resigned or been fired since Trump took office in January 2017. Others include strategist Steve Bannon, national security adviser Michael Flynn, FBI Director James Comey, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, health secretary Tom Price, communications directors Hope Hicks and Anthony Scaramucci, economic adviser Gary Cohn and press secretary Sean Spicer.
Senior Trump administration officials made it known in November that the White House had drafted a plan to replace Tillerson.
In December Tillerson had offered to begin direct talks with the DPRK without pre-conditions, backing away from a key US demand that Pyongyang must first accept that any negotiations would be about giving up its nuclear arsenal.
But the White House distanced itself from those remarks, and a few days later, Tillerson himself backed off.
Several months earlier in Beijing, Tillerson told reporters the United States was directly communicating with the DPRK but that Pyongyang had shown no interest in dialogue. Trump contradicted Tillerson's efforts a day later.
"I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man," Trump wrote on Twitter, using a pejorative nickname for Kim. "Save your energy Rex, we'll do what has to be done!" Trump added.
Tillerson won few plaudits from career diplomats for his performance at the State Department. His tenure coincided with the departure of dozens of veteran foreign policy hands, and most of the senior policy-making positions remain unfilled.