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Ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lashes out at Russia in final remarks

Tillerson did not address reports he only learned of his sacking after Donald Trump tweeted about it.

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Updated 8.20pm

OUTGOING US SECRETARY of State Rex Tillerson warned in his farewell remarks that Washington DC must do more to respond to Russia’s “troubling behaviour and actions”.

After he was sacked by President Donald Trump, Tillerson also said US efforts to pressure North Korea had worked better than expected and revealed he would pass authority to his deputy at midnight.

The former oil executive said he would remain at the department until 31 March to conclude an administrative handover, but that Deputy Secretary John Sullivan would take charge.

Tillerson did not address reports that he had only learned of his sacking when he read about it in Trump’s tweet, but said he had since spoken to the president by telephone.

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Among his last acts as secretary, as he flew back from Africa late yesterday, was to brief reporters on his “outrage” at Russia’s alleged involvement in an attempted assassination using a nerve agent in Britain.

In his farewell remarks today, he returned to the theme.

“Much work remains to respond to the troubling behaviour and actions on the part of the Russian government,” he said, before turning to warn Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin not to overstep.

“Russia must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interests of the Russian people and of the world more broadly.

Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part, a situation which is not in anyone’s interest.

Tillerson’s sacking comes shortly after Trump, without consulting his top diplomat, decided to accept an invitation to talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un on resolving the Korean nuclear stand-off.

The departing secretary did not take issue with the decision, but suggested it was made possible by the hard work of his State Department and allies in building sanctions and diplomatic pressure.

He said this pressure campaign had “exceeded the expectations of almost everyone” and noted it was he who had declared on his first trip to Asia as secretary that the “era of strategic patience is over”.

Tillerson is set to be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo. Trump also announced the appointment of Gina Haspel to head the CIA – the first woman tapped for the post.

Trump praised Pompeo, a former US army officer and congressman who led the CIA for nearly 14 months, as “the right person for the job at this critical juncture”.

Rocky tenure

Tillerson, a former Exxon CEO, has had a rocky tenure as the top US diplomat and had long been rumoured to be about to be pushed out.

Tillerson was repeatedly forced to deny he had fallen out with Trump – vowing to remain in post despite a sensational report that he once dubbed the president a “moron”.

A respected figure in the oil business, the 65-year-old Texan’s tenure at the State Department drew scorn from Trump’s opponents, from former diplomats and from the Washington policy elite.

During his time in post, he was faced with an extraordinary array of foreign policy challenges, from North Korean nuclear threats to Russian subversion to attacks on US diplomats in Cuba.

But his efforts were often overshadowed by Trump’s un-diplomatic style and his streams of taunting tweets stirring international tensions.

Following a meeting with the Tánaiste Simon Coveney earlier this month, Tillerson had committed to appointing another Northern Ireland envoy.

When asked about the promise in Washington DC today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the priority for Ireland is for a US ambassador to be appointed, more so than a Northern Ireland envoy.

“The appointment of the US cabinet is for President Trump, not for me, but he is somebody who met with Minister Coveney not too long ago and we did think there was a basis for a good partnership and a good working relationship with him but he is no longer in office and Mike Pompeo is there instead and we look forward to the same relationship working with him,” said Varadkar.

© – AFP 2018 with reporting by Hayley Halpin and Christina Finn in Washington DC 

Read: The US could send a special envoy to Northern Ireland soon

More: ‘I carry Ireland with me everywhere I go’: Leo likely to indulge Pence and Ryan with talk of Irish roots

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