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Analysis: Tillerson travels the world as the anti-Trump

Tracy Wilkinson, Tribune Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

"I don't get frustrated about anything, so I don't need to answer the question," he said.

A senior State Department official said U.S. relations with most governments in Latin America are "robust" enough to weather the White House jibes. But privately, many Latin American officials are waiting to see how much of what Trump has promised -- or threatened -- to do actually gets done.

Colombia is already seeing Obama administration pledges of billions of dollars in U.S. aid begin to evaporate, just as it attempts to put into place an expensive peace agreement aimed at ending four decades of war.

"It is confusing," said Bruce Bagley, a Latin America expert and international relations professor at the University of Miami. "It is not clear who is to be believed, who is speaking for the administration, who is speaking for America.

"Is Tillerson a trial balloon? Is he just cosmetic?" Bagley said. "Right now, I don't think Tillerson has much credibility."

That's certainly his reputation in large parts of the State Department. His decision to accept drastic budget cuts, his propensity to micromanage, and his plans to sharply reduce staff and reorganize the foreign policy bureaucracy have fueled sharp criticism of his style and agenda.

It did not help when the knives came out early on, somewhere near the Oval Office, when senior aides to Trump leaked that Tillerson's firing or resignation was imminent. A news report in October that he had privately referred to Trump as a "moron" -- a characterization Tillerson did not explicitly deny making -- seemed to seal his fate.

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But Tillerson appears to have dug in instead. And if his travel schedule is any indication, the 65-year-old former CEO of Exxon Mobil may be safe in the ornate, mahogany-paneled offices on the seventh floor of the State Department, at least for now.

"My job as secretary of state is to develop a lot of options, alternative ways of looking at the issue, present those as best I can, make a recommendation, if (the president) wants me to make one," Tillerson said. "And then let him make the decision and whatever he decides, we'll go execute that and develop all the right tactics and strategies to do that.

"That's my job."

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