Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil CEO who has no formal foreign policy experience, was today chosen as the new US Secretary of State by President-elect Donald Trump, amid bipartisan concerns about the veteran oilman’s close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him (Tillerson) an excellent choice for Secretary of State,” Trump said in the statement.
“Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream,” Trump said.
Like Trump, Tillerson, 64, has no formal foreign policy experience, but has built close relationships with many world leaders by closing massive deals across Eurasia and the Middle East on behalf of the world’s largest energy company.
Tillerson said he was “honoured” by the nomination, adding that he shared Trump’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security”.
Tillerson’s nomination could face intense scrutiny in the Senate due to his close ties with Putin. Trump, who during his presidential campaign praised Putin, wants to improve US’ relationship with Russia which soured in 2014 when Kremlin annexed Crimea.
There is bipartisan concerns over his nomination after CIA in a secret assessment indicated that Russia intervened by hacking into the Democratic National Committee websites to help Trump win in the 2016 presidential elections, a report strongly refuted by the President-elect’s transition team.
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According to media reports, intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.
The secretary of state is in effect the top US diplomat, responsible for enacting the government’s foreign policy.
Tillerson was originally a dark horse for the secretary of state nomination, but emerged from a lengthy public interview and vetting process that included better-known quantities like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.
Trump has called Tillerson a “world-class player” and the transition team is likely to stress that his mastery of complex negotiations and knowledge of geopolitical factors shaping the oil industry are directly relevant to heading US diplomacy and managing the State Department.
Tillerson was recommended to Trump by former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and James Baker and former Secretary of Defence Bob Gates, CNN quoted sources as saying.
Trump and Tillerson possess similar deal-making business backgrounds and similar views of the world, sources said, and there was a level of comfort that Trump hadn’t found with anyone else.
Tillerson has worked in Russia and the Middle East on behalf of the multinational petroleum company.
Tillerson is considered one of the faces of Big Oil globally.
In 2011, Exxon signed a deal with Russian oil giant Rosneft to provide access to oil resources in the Arctic.
Rosneft’s largest shareholder is the Russian government. Putin attended the Exxon signing ceremony and later awarded Tillerson the country’s Order of Friendship.