The FINANCIAL — U.S. President Donald Trump says he has dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and is nominating Mike Pompeo, the current head of the CIA, to replace him as the top U.S. diplomat.
Deputy CIA chief Gina Haspel will head the agency, becoming the first woman to do so, Trump said in a tweet on March 13.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job!” Trump said on Twitter on March 13. “Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service!”
“Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” Trump said in the tweet.
Trump announced the decision after Tillerson, who became secretary of state on February 1, 2017, returned from a shortened trip to Africa, according to RFE/RL.
Trump told reporters outside the White House that he made the decision “by myself” and said Tillerson would be “much happier now.” He said that he and Tillerson had different mindsets.
Speaking several hours later, Tillerson told reporters that he is delegating his responsibilities at the end of the workday on March 13 to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan.
Tillerson said he will be formally stepping down from his post at the end of the month.
He called for an orderly transition while encouraging State Department employees to remain focused on their jobs.
A senior White House official said that Trump wanted to have his new team in place before his planned talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and ongoing trade negotiations.
Tillerson did not speak to Trump before he was dismissed and “is unaware of the reason,” Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said in a statement.
The top U.S. diplomat “had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues,” Goldstein added.
Shortly after his comments, Goldstein himself was fired by the White House.
“This has been the honor of a lifetime and I am grateful to the president and the secretary for this opportunity. I look forward to getting some rest,” Goldstein told the French news agency AFP.
Trump, meanwhile, told reporters that “Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time” and indicated that they held conflicting views on the 2015 deal between Iran and six world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
“We got along, actually, quite well, but we disagreed on things,” he said. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently.”
The moves follow months of speculation that Tillerson, a former head of the oil company ExxonMobil, could be on his way out as the top U.S. diplomat
The moves also come amid persistent tension with Russia over issues including its interference in Ukraine, its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and British allegations that it was “most likely” behind the poisoning of a former spy with a highly toxic nerve agent.
The senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Trump works well with Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas seen as a loyalist within the administration.
As CIA director, Pompeo “has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community,” Trump said in a statement distributed by the White House.
Pompeo “will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
Pompeo said that, if confirmed as secretary of state by U.S. lawmakers, “I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America’s prosperity.”
Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, has been chief of station at agency outposts abroad and has held several senior leadership positions including deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.
She briefly ran a secret CIA prison in Thailand where accused terrorists Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002, the Associated Press reported, citing current and former U.S. intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
With reporting by The Washington Post, AP, AFP, and Reuters