Despite budget cuts, Tillerson works to gain long-term influence

© Reuters. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, before their meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Tokyo.

By Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – While he swallowed a big budget cut, his elected MP was vetoed and fired as invisible in his own building, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is playing a patient game to gain influence by avoiding public conflicts with whites. . House, six current and former US officials said Thursday.

The former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp (NYSE 🙂 faces multiple challenges in his unknown role as the chief diplomatic officer of the United States, including a chief of the president of the United States, Donald Trump, who makes unpredictable political pronouncements and does not accept criticism or contradictions, said four current officials.

Relations between US presidents and their top diplomats have varied widely throughout history, but those between Trump and Tillerson are especially important because of potential conflicts between the unstable state of the world and Trump’s agenda of “United States. United first, “said two of the officials.

As a result, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity, Tillerson is trying to keep a low profile, which is his natural instinct, and looking for a way to make his foreign policy case without being dragged into losing battles.

One such example is the White House proposal on Thursday to cut U.S. foreign aid and diplomacy spending by 28 percent, a sign that the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are not they are Trump’s priorities. In Tokyo on Thursday, Tillerson said the State Department’s current spending “is simply not sustainable” and accepted the “challenge” that Trump had posed by proposing to cut more than a quarter of his agency’s budget.

“He’s doing a very sensible calculation,” said a former US official, noting that it is Congress, not the president, who controls the pockets. “You declare your allegiance to the president and then you know that you will not really have to live with the president’s budget.”

NO WAY TO WIN ‘HEAD TO HEAD’ BATTLES

Two current and former officials said Tillerson is no stranger to cost cuts, having seen waves of them at Exxon, and suggested that he had convinced the White House to let him make many of the cuts himself.

“Tillerson is not at all opposed to cutting the budget, but he realized that he could not win face-to-face battles with the president and those close to him, so he is following a different strategy, arguing that he may not make decisions. on what to cut back until you are more familiar with your department and its budget, “said a veteran State Department official.

Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said Tillerson is highly respected in the White House.

“President Trump has the highest confidence in the Secretary of State and hopes that Mr. Tillerson will implement a bold agenda to reinvigorate American foreign policy,” Anton said.

While he is delaying some of the drastic cuts the White House wanted, it is far from clear that Tillerson could prevail over Trump aides like Steve Bannon, who want to dismantle parts of the federal government and limit America’s engagement with the world. said three of the current and former officials.

The White House veto of Elliot Abrams, the election of Tillerson for undersecretary, the second-highest job in the department, “brought that point home,” said one of the current officials.

Despite that defeat, a White House official said Tillerson has good access to the president, including multiple lunches, dinners and meetings. Tillerson dined with Trump on Monday, the night before flying to Asia.

INVISIBILITY CLOAK?

The low profile of Tillerson, who held his first press conference on Thursday in Tokyo seven weeks after becoming secretary of state, has drawn criticism from the media and many State Department officials that he remains invisible and has not managed to cultivate potential allies in Trump’s cabinet and on Capitol Hill. Hill.

Chas Freeman, a retired diplomat who served as the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia and as the lead interpreter for former President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, said Tillerson’s low-key style could be a survival tactic.

“If you say something, you run a great risk of getting mad at Trump,” Freeman said. “This may be a Fabian strategy”, referring to the Roman statesman Fabius, who defeated the Carthaginian general Hannibal avoiding frontal conflict.