US President Donald Trump sacked his top diplomat Rex Tillerson and named current CIA chief Mike Pompeo to succeed him on Tuesday, ending a rocky tenure by the Texas oilman who had been sidelined on the world stage by the mercurial president.
The outgoing secretary of state, who returned before dawn from a trip to Africa, did not speak to the president before his sacking was announced and was unaware of the reason for his sudden downfall, according to a top aide who posted on Twitter.
Those words ended up costing undersecretary of state Steve Goldstein his job too, with the White House sacking the top US State Department official within hours of his tweet.
"This has been the honour of a lifetime and I am grateful to the president and the secretary for this opportunity. I look forward to getting some rest," Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein told AFP.
A senior White House official said the president wanted to reshuffle his team with a view to launching talks with North Korea, following last week's spectacular announcement of a meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un.
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2018
Trump had scant words of praise for Tillerson, who had long been rumored to be about to be pushed out.
"A great deal has been accomplished over the last fourteen months, and I wish him and his family well," Trump said, thanking Tillerson "for his service."
But addressing reporters before leaving on a trip to California, Trump spoke openly of his disagreements with the former Exxon chief -- including over the Iran nuclear deal -- as he explained his decision to replace him.
"We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things," Trump said. "When you look at the Iran deal, I thought it was terrible, he thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something, he felt a little differently. So we were not really thinking the same."
The Secretary did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted.— Steve Goldstein (@UnderSecPD) March 13, 2018
We wish Secretary-Designate Pompeo well
In announcing Tillerson's sacking earlier Tuesday, Trump lavished praise on Pompeo, a former US army officer and congressman who led the CIA for nearly 14 months, saying he would do a "fantastic job!"
"He will continue our program of restoring America's standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Trump added, calling him "the right person for the job at this critical juncture."
Trump called for Pompeo to be swiftly confirmed in the role -- as his administration heads into the high-stakes talks.
To succeed Pompeo, the US president nominated Gina Haspel, a controversial career intelligence officer, to head the Central Intelligence Agency -- the first woman tapped for the post.
Haspel has been reported to have overseen a CIA "black site" in Thailand where Al-Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded after the 9/11 attacks.
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