- White House officials say the biggest factor in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ouster was his views on North Korea.
- Sources say Tillerson’s policy of dialogue over a more hardline approach had conflicted with President Donald Trump’s strategy.
- CIA director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s proposed replacement for Tillerson, appears to be on the same wavelength as Trump on the subject of US-North Korean relations.
White House officials say the biggest factor in Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s ouster on Tuesday was his views on North Korea, which often conflicted with President Donald Trump’s strategy, according to a CNN report.
One day after Trump accepted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s invitation to meet, Tillerson was woken up in his hotel room by a phone call from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, sources said in the report. Kelly then reportedly informed Tillerson that his tenure as secretary was coming to a close.
Just hours before Trump had made his decision to accept Kim’s invitation, Tillerson said the US was still “a long ways from negotiations.”
Though the mixed messages may not have been the last straw for Tillerson’s tenure, his dovish approach in dealing with North Korea had reportedly derailed Trump’s track to enact “maximum pressure” on the regime.
Tillerson, who opposed a “regime change” and an “accelerated reunification of the peninsula,” advocated for diplomatic avenues to mitigate the verbal volleys between the White House and North Korea.
“Let’s just meet – we can talk about the weather if you want,” Tillerson said in December. “We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about. But can we at least sit down and see each other face to face.”
Meanwhile, Trump continued to rail against North Korea in various speeches and tweets. At one point, Trump appeared to deride Tillerson over his diplomatic approach.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man…,” Trump said, referring to a nickname for Kim, on Twitter in October.
CIA director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s proposed replacement for Tillerson, has retained stronger ties to the White House than his predecessor, particularly on North Korean relations. Pompeo’s strategy on North Korea appears to be on the same wavelength and has better mimicked the Trump administration than Tillerson’s.
“We do believe that Kim Jong Un, given these toolsets, will use them for things besides simply regime protection and that is to put pressure on what is his ultimate goal, which is reunification of the peninsula under his authority,” Pompeo said in January.
Other intelligence officials agreed that Pompeo’s views on North Korea aligned with Trump’s.
“I think it’s pretty clear that Mike Pompeo is on the same page, philosophically, with President Trump,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said to CNN on Tuesday.