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Rex Tillerson, Trump's pick for secretary of State, seeks to allay fears about his ties to Russia

Tracy Wilkinson, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Rex Tillerson faced harsh questions from fellow Republicans on Wednesday for his close personal ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, but his Senate confirmation as Donald Trump's secretary of State did not appear to be in danger.

In a sometimes testy hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest U.S. oil company, calmly defended his views on global warming, human rights and relations with Russia.

In a surprise, Tillerson said he and the president-elect had not yet discussed U.S. policy toward Russia, an issue that dominated Trump's first postelection news conference after a U.S. intelligence report that said Putin sought to help Trump win the White House.

Tillerson, 64, also broke with Trump on foreign policy several times. It was unclear if that signaled a potential clash with the incoming White House or was intended to defuse his critics in Congress and the national security establishment.

Unlike Trump, he described an increasingly belligerent Russia as cause for alarm, and he condemned Moscow's seizure of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine in 2014 as illegal.

He also offered support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement that President Barack Obama has championed and Trump has condemned.

He called for a "full review" of the international accord that seeks to block Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, but did not vow to rip it up as Trump has said.

He said he does not agree with Trump's comments in March that Japan and South Korea should build their own nuclear weapons to help counter North Korea. Trump has since suggested that he was misunderstood.

Tillerson said he would oppose broadening ties further with Cuba because of its continued arrests of political opponents and other human rights abuses. But he did not pledge to shut Obama's diplomatic opening, as Trump has suggested.

Unlike Trump's other picks for Cabinet positions, Tillerson repeatedly found himself under fire from fellow Republicans as he struggled, not always successfully, to allay concerns about his long-running ties to Russia.


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