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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered a solemn thanks to State Department staffers while making no specific mention of President Trump in his first public remarks since being fired by Mr. Trump Tuesday morning.
Tillerson, whose tenure was frequently subject to speculation in the past year, found out about his ouster when the public did. The Secretary made no remarks on the drama behind his termination, but said he received a call on Tuesday “a little after noon time” from the the president as well as chief of staff John Kelly “to ensure we have clarity as to the days ahead.”
He said the top priority now was to “ensure an orderly and smooth transition” as the country faces “policy and national security challenges.”
Tillerson told reporters that effective at the end of the day, all duties will be delegated to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan. His time at the State Department will formally terminate at midnight on March 31.
His remarks were largely devoted to thanking “selfless leaders” at State.
“To my foreign service officers, and civil service colleagues, we all took the same oath of office, whether you are career, employee or a political appointee, we are all bound by that common commitment,” said Tillerson.
He said in closing that he now returns to private life as a private citizen and a “proud American” of the opportunity he had to serve the country.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House before departing for his trip to California that the two had disagreed on some issues, in particular, the handling of the Iran nuclear deal.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time. 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 okay. I wanted to either break it or do something. And he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.”
He said however that Rex would be “much happier now” outside the State Department.
But State Department Under Secretary Steve Goldstein said in a statement to CBS News on Tuesday morning that the Secretary had “every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security.”
Goldstein added in his statement that Tillerson was “unaware of the reason” he had been removed. Soon afterward, the White House called Goldstein to tell him he was no longer needed.
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