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State Department Says Tillerson ‘Taking a Little Time Off’ | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson boards his plane at Cologne Bonn Airport, western Germany, as he leaves after a meeting of Foreign Ministers of the G20 leading and developing economies on February 17, 2017. AFP / Brendan Smialowski

The State Department has denied that top US diplomat Rex Tillerson plans to step down, shrugging off reports and allegations on growing frustration and differences with the White House.

Since taking the helm of the State Department in February, Tillerson has come under fire for his ultra-low profile, and his plan to slash by 30 percent the budget of an agency that employs more than 70,000 people in Washington and around the world.

CNN reported that Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chair, planned to leave by year’s end.

Tillerson has also told friends he will be lucky to last a year in his job, according to a friend.

A source familiar with the situation told Reuters that Tillerson was “very upset at not having autonomy, independence and control over his own department and the ability to do the job the way the job … is traditionally done.”

The source said he had heard nothing about any possible departure, but added: “The situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better, and in some respects appears to be getting worse.”

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert flatly denied the resignation claims.

“That is false. We have spoken with the secretary. The secretary has been very clear he intends to stay here at the State Department,” she told reporters.

“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.”

Pressed about Tillerson’s light schedule in recent days, Nauert said the secretary was “just taking a little time off.” 

“He’s had a lot of work. He just came back from that mega trip overseas, as you all well know,” the spokeswoman added, referring to a trip that took Tillerson to the G20 summit in Germany, as well as to Turkey, Ukraine and Gulf countries.

“So, he’s entitled to take a few days himself.”

R.C. Hammond, Tillerson’s spokesman, also denied the top US diplomat was considering leaving or that his frustrations were boiling over, saying he had “plenty of reasons to stay on the job, and all of them are important to America.”

“There’s a desperate need for American leadership in the world and that’s where the secretary’s focusing his attention,” he said.

Many US ambassadorial and management posts have not been filled, with diplomats and experts fretting they could be next on the budget chopping block.

CNN said that among Tillerson’s growing differences with the White House were fresh debates over Iran policy and personnel, as well as President Donald Trump’s chaotic and confusing foreign policy approach.