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rex tillerson

Trump picks oil chief (with no diplomatic experience but plenty of ties to Russia) as Secretary of State

Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan said he is already looking forward to meeting the new appointee.

Exxon Shareholders Rex Tillerson AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Updated at 1pm

PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD Trump has picked global oil giant Exxon Mobil’s chief Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, setting up what will likely be contentious confirmation hearings over the oilman’s ties to Russia.

Tillerson’s nomination comes just days after a secret CIA report accused Russia of interfering with the US election in favor of Trump, in a development which could complicate his confirmation.

There had been eight or nine contenders for the job, including former CIA director David Petraeus, former UN ambassador John Bolton and Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker.

Also on that list was erstwhile Trump critic and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who indicated on Facebook he was out of the running shortly after Trump said he would soon make his choice official.

“It was an honor to have been considered for secretary of state of our great country,” Romney wrote.

My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening. I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace.

CNN reported that Trump had called Romney to tell him he had not been selected.

Sharp questions

Trump’s secretary of state will be tasked with overseeing international relations for a political novice who seems intent on trashing protocol and upending relationships built on decades of delicate diplomacy.

Tillerson – who has no formal foreign policy background – is sure to face sharp questions in Senate confirmation hearings.

As Exxon Mobil’s president and CEO, the 64-year-old Texan oversees the company’s business activities in more than 50 countries.

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He has opposed sanctions on Russia and in 2013 was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin following several years of Exxon projects in the country.

Trump has praised Tillerson as “much more than a business executive”.

“I mean, he’s a world-class player,” the president-elect told Fox News on Sunday. “He knows many of the players and he knows them well.”

He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals for the company, not for himself, for the company.

In a statement released this afternoon welcoming Tillerson’s appointment, Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said:

“I congratulate Rex Tillerson on his nomination as US Secretary of State by President-elect Trump and wish him well as he prepares to take up office.

“Once Mr Tillerson is confirmed by the US Senate, I look forward to having an early opportunity to meet him and to discuss matters of mutual interest between Ireland and the US.”

He added:

“I greatly valued my working relationship with the current US Secretary of State, John Kerry who has been a great friend of Ireland over many years.

As he approaches the end of his tenure, I wish to express my appreciation to Secretary Kerry for the very helpful role he has played in Ireland-US relations over recent years, not least in regard to Northern Ireland.

Ruffling feathers

With more than five weeks to go before he is sworn in, Trump is already ruffling feathers with his statements about two major world powers: Russia and China.

The president-elect has stoked alarm – even among fellow Republicans – by calling for closer ties with Moscow, in contrast to received wisdom in Washington that Russia remains a global security threat.

He has dismissed as “ridiculous” reports that US intelligence has concluded that Russia interfered in last month’s presidential election to sway the vote in his favour.

And Sino-US relations are strained after a series of moves by Trump that provoked China, America’s biggest single goods trading partner and the holder of almost a trillion dollars in US government debt.

The incoming president has suggested that Beijing may have to make concessions on trade if US policy toward China is to stay the same. He also directly challenged China over its currency and its takeover of disputed islets in the South China Sea.

That came after Trump raised eyebrows by taking a congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan, a self-ruling island that Beijing considers a rogue province awaiting unification.

It was a break from the “One China policy” – which recognises Beijing as the sole representative of China – the cornerstone of the relationship between the countries since Richard Nixon went to China in 1972.

China’s foreign ministry has warned that if the One China policy is “compromised or disrupted,” cooperation in major fields would be “out of the question”.

© – AFP, 2016 with reporting from Daragh Brophy. 

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