Trump confirms Rex Tillerson as pick to lead state department

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson

President-elect Donald Trump has confirmed his choice of Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state, hailing him as “among the most accomplished business leaders and international deal makers in the world”.

In a release from his transition headquarters in New York, Mr Trump called Mr Tillerson’s career “the embodiment of the American dream”.

He said the ExxonMobil CEO rose through the ranks “through hard work, dedication and smart deal making”.

President-elect Trump also said that as the nation’s top diplomat, Mr Tillerson will be “a world-class leader” working on behalf of the American people.

Mr Tillerson has close ties to Russia, and his selection sets up a potential confirmation fight in the Senate.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson
Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson

In an accompanying statement, Mr Tillerson said he was “honoured” by his selection and shares Mr Trump’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman said that Beijing was looking forward to working with the new secretary of state.

“No matter who will become US secretary of state, China is looking forward to working together with him to push forward greater progress of the bilateral relationship on a new starting point,” the spokesman, Geng Shuang, said at a regular briefing.

Mr Trump brushed aside concerns about Mr Tillerson’s close ties to Moscow in bringing the long secretary of state audition process to an end.

Mr Tillerson has connections with Russian President Vladimir Putin. And on Capitol Hill, leading Republicans have already expressed anxieties about him, as they contend with intelligence assessments saying Russia interfered with the US presidential election to help Mr Trump.

For weeks, Mr Trump has teased out the decision process publicly, often exposing rifts in his organisation. He also considered former Massachusetts Gov Mitt Romney, a one-time vocal Trump critic, and Sen Bob Corker of Tennessee, who leads the Foreign Relations Committee.

The unconventional vetting procedures are in keeping with Mr Trump’s presidential style thus far, unconcerned with tradition or business as usual.

In recent weeks, he has attacked CIA intelligence, spoken to the leader of Taiwan and has continued his late-night Twitter tirades.

President-Elect Donald Trump
President-Elect Donald Trump

Making yet another non-traditional choice, Mr Trump heads out Tuesday for another week of travel, starting with a rally in Wisconsin.

Mr Trump postponed a Thursday announcement about how he will handle his massive business empire, though it appears likely he will not follow other presidents and make a clean break from his personal holdings.

Mr Trump was set to visit supporters as questions swirled about a CIA assessment that Russia interfered in the November election on his behalf.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that Congress will investigate the agency’s conclusion, which the incoming commander in chief has called “ridiculous”.

The CIA recently concluded with “high confidence” that Russia sought to influence the US election on behalf of Mr Trump, raising red flags among politicians concerned about the sanctity of the US voting system and potentially straining relations at the start of Mr Trump’s administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, Mr Tillerson’s test will be whether his corporate deal-making skills translate into the delicate world of international diplomacy.

He would face immediate challenges in Syria, where a civil war rages on, and in China, given Mr Trump’s recent suggestions that he could take a more aggressive approach to dealing with Beijing.