Trump replaces Tillerson with CIA chief Pompeo as state secretary

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Combo photo shows Rex Tillerson (L) and Mike Pompeo. [File photo]

Amid mounting uncertainties over U.S. foreign policy, President Donald Trump on Tuesday announced replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Director of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Mike Pompeo.

Tillerson sacked

Trump tweeted that Pompeo "will do a fantastic job," adding that Gina Haspel, Pompeo's deputy, will become the new CIA chief as "the first woman so chosen."

Later, Trump told media in the White House before going to California that Pompeo has "tremendous energy, tremendous intellect."

"We're always on the same wavelength," he said. "The relationship has been very good and that's what I need as Secretary of State ... I think Mike Pompeo will be a truly great Secretary of State."

He also noted that he and Tillerson "have been talking about this for a long time."

"We disagreed on things ... we were not thinking the same. With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process," he said.

"I very much appreciate his (Tillerson's) commitment and his service and I wish him well. He's a good man," said Trump. "I actually got along well with Rex but really it was a different mindset, a different thinking."

An aide of Tillerson responded by saying that Trump did not explain to Tillerson why he was fired, and Tillerson had wanted to stay on.

In a statement, Pompeo said he is "deeply grateful" for the new nomination.

"If confirmed, I look forward to guiding the world's finest diplomatic corps in formulating and executing the President's foreign policy," he said, vowing to work to ensure that "our nation will forever be safe and strong and proud and mighty and free."

Washington shocked

Trump's decision, first reported by The Washington Post, shocked Washington, since Tillerson had just wrapped up his visit to Africa. It also came on the heels of Trump's ground-breaking statement last week that he had accepted the invitation from the top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong Un, for a meeting.

However, Tillerson ouster was not a total surprise for Washington, where rumors of his sacking had emerged after he was reported to have called Trump a "moron" at a meeting last year. Trump later challenged him to an IQ test, prompting further speculations.

Tillerson, who assumed office on Feb.1, 2017, underwent a rocky term due to his profound divergence from Trump over multiple issues including the U.S. withdrawal from multilateral treaties and organizations.

Tillerson's departure was welcomed by the Trump administration.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that the replacement was a "great decision by the President." She also congratulated Pompeo on the new nomination, calling him a "friend."

The nomination has yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress, although it is highly unlikely to be vetoed.

A statement offered by White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said Pompeo's experience in the military, Congress, and as leader of the CIA has "prepared him well for his new role."

Uncertainties ahead

Tillerson's sudden sacking has sparked worries over the Trump administration's future foreign policies, with critics predicting they would be more self-centered and reckless.

Trump told reporters that the Iran nuclear deal was part of the reason for sacking Tillerson.

"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," he said.

Speaking of the future meeting with the DPRK top leader, Trump said he "really didn't discuss it very much" with Tillerson.

"I made that decision by myself," he said.

On his "America First" ambition, Trump said 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."

The remarks have sparked worries. The Washington Post warned that Pompeo would be more obedient to Trump's will compared with Tillerson.

"Pompeo has done nothing but talk about how we need to take the gloves off," Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard Kennedy School, was quoted as saying. "There's no reason to believe he would change his views if you put him in charge of the State Department."

The New York Times commented that Pompeo's hard-edge views "might reinforce, rather than restrain, Mr. Trump's instincts."

"That could further stiffen American policy toward Iran, where Mr.Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, urged Mr. Trump not to scrap the nuclear deal negotiated by President Barack Obama," the newspaper said.

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