WASHINGTON Jan 11 President-elect Donald
Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, faces tough
questioning at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday over his
ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin as both Democrats and
Republicans worry about Moscow's increasingly aggressive
The central question facing Tillerson, 64, the former
chairman of Exxon Mobil, is how effectively he can
transform himself from a Big Oil "dealmaker" to being America's
top diplomat with little government experience.
According to excerpts from his opening statement released
before the hearing, Tillerson will say that Russia poses a
danger and NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent
He will argue, however, that Russia's resurgence happened in
the "absence of American leadership" and will call for open and
frank dialogue with Moscow.
"We must be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia,"
Tillerson will say. "Russia today poses a danger but it is not
unpredictable in advancing its own interests," according to the
transcript of his remarks.
"We need an open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding
its ambitions, so that we know how to chart our own course," he
will say. He will also emphasize the need to destroy Islamic
State, and will criticize China's behavior in the South China
Sea and call on Beijing to pressure North Korea.
Tillerson's confirmation hearing comes at a time of rising
tensions with Russia over its role in the U.S. presidential
election and an assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that
Russia was behind the hacks of political figures in an effort to
help Trump win the Nov. 8 election. Moscow has denied the
Tillerson opposed U.S. sanctions against Russia in 2014 over
its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine because he thought they
would be ineffective.
On Tuesday, 10 senators - five of whom sit on the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee that will vet him - introduced
legislation to impose even tougher sanctions on Moscow, and
promised to grill Tillerson about whether he would back them.
One of the senators, Republican John McCain, who has called
Putin "a thug and a murderer," was quoted by media as telling
reporters last week when asked if he could support Tillerson:
"Sure. There's also a realistic scenario that pigs fly."
In 2012, Tillerson received the "Order of Friendship" award
from Putin. The same year, Exxon deepened its cooperation with
Russian oil company Rosneft to expand an oil drilling project in
the Arctic after U.S. sanctions over Ukraine were imposed.
At the time of the sanctions, Russian oil tsar Igor Sechin
told Reuters he would miss three things: exploring U.S. culture,
the chance to show his children American landscapes and riding
motorbikes with Tillerson.
Tillerson is also expected to face vigorous questioning over
the U.S. role in ending the Syrian civil war, Israel's
contentious settlement policy and the question of a two-state
solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, climate change,
U.S. participation in NATO and U.S. support for the Iran nuclear
Trump has made contradictory statements on the Iran nuclear
deal, including that he would dismantle the agreement signed
between Iran and six world powers - Russia, China, Britain,
Germany, France and the United States - in 2015.
Tillerson is also expected to be asked how he plans to
promote human rights in countries in the Middle East, Africa and
Latin America, where Exxon cut deals with governments widely
criticized for their poor human rights records.
Exxon came out in support of the Paris climate agreement and
has advocated for a carbon tax. The company is under
investigation by the New York Attorney General's Office for
allegedly misleading investors, regulators and the public on
what it knew about global warming.
Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, said he expected Tillerson to win strong support and
was convinced he had "mainstream" views on Russia.
"I predict that he's going to be overwhelmingly
supported," Corker told reporters recently. "I think they're
going to see how substantial this person is."
Democrat Chris Murphy said Tillerson lacked the record to be
secretary of state, given Trump's lack of diplomatic experience.
"I'm looking for a leader who will be an advocate for
growing diplomacy as a tool in our national security toolkit,
and who doesn't shy away from confronting countries like Russia
over increased aggression," Murphy said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he had not yet
met with Tillerson, although they had spoken by phone.
Speaking at a Washington forum on the transition process,
Kerry acknowledged he was dismayed by the lack of thorough
vetting of some of Trump's nominees.
Tillerson has not submitted tax returns, but his financial
disclosure and ethics agreements have been made public. Exxon
said on Jan. 4 that Tillerson had agreed to sever all ties to
the company to comply with conflict-of-interest requirements and
if confirmed, would sell more than 600,000 Exxon shares he
(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Steve Holland;
Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)