(March 13, 2018 / JNS) President Donald Trump fired U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday, while announcing that CIA Director Mike Pompeo would replace Tillerson at the State Department.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted early on Tuesday. “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!”
The surprise, yet not-so-surprising, firing of Tillerson—a longtime former CEO at Exxon-Mobile—comes after a short and rocky tenure at the helm of the State Department in which the two men disagreed on a number of issues, most notably on Trump’s decisions to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
In comments shortly after the announcement, Trump specifically pointed to the Iran nuclear deal as a factor in Tillerson’s ouster.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump told reporters after the announcement. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. … So we were not really thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well,” he added.
Reports had suggested that Tillerson, along with U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis, had urged Trump to remain in the Iran nuclear deal as it was believed that pulling out would harm America’s global standing, as well as its leverage to persuade allies to put more pressure on Iran.
Nevertheless, Trump announced in January that he would no long renew a sanctions waiver on Iran—effectively ending U.S. participation in it—and gave U.S. and European negotiators a 120-day deadline to implement changes to beef up the deal. Currently, both sides are working on a solution that may include a demand to end Iran’s ballistic missile testing, allowing nuclear inspectors to Iran’s military sites and ending sunset clauses in the deal.
Replacing Tillerson at the State Department is former Kansas House of Representatives member and CIA director Mike Pompeo, who has long been known for his hawkish views on Iran and warm ties to Israel.
During his 15-month tenure at the CIA, Pompeo reportedly has good working relations with his intelligence counterparts in Israel, according to Haaretz. At the same time, Pompeo also worked to maintain ties between the Trump administration and the Palestinian Authority’s security and intelligence forces.
Pompeo, who has long been rumored to replace Tillerson, has been notable in his disdain towards Iran. As a member of the House of Representatives, Pompeo was a strong critic of the Iran nuclear deal forged by President Barack Obama, and following his nomination as CIA director, Pompeo tweeted: “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
At the same time, during a visit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2015, Pompeo called the Israeli leader a “true partner for the American people.”
“Our conversation was incredibly enlightening as to the true threats facing both Israel and the United States,” Pompeo said at the time. “Netanyahu’s efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons are incredibly admirable and deeply appreciated.”
In a statement on Pompeo’s appointment, Netanyahu said that he had been “very impressed with his abilities and experience” in their meetings, and that he expects they will “work very well together” in his new role.