Tillerson avoids public conflict with Trump over budget

© 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 and the White House vetoed his elected deputy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is avoiding a public conflict with U.S. President Donald Trump over his department’s budget. said six current and former US officials. Thursday.

Instead, Tillerson privately resisted a 37 percent budget cut that some White House officials were seeking and convinced Trump that he needed more time to identify where they could be saved, two current officials and a former official told Reuters.

As a result, the White House on Thursday proposed a reduction of about 28 percent in US diplomacy and foreign aid.

“Tillerson is not opposed to cutting the budget at all, but found that he could not win head-to-head battles with the president and those close to him, so he is following a different strategy, arguing that he may not make the right decisions. on what to cut back on until you’re more familiar with your department and its budget, “said one of the current officials, a State Department veteran.

Tillerson said in Tokyo on Thursday that his department’s current spending “is simply not sustainable” and that he accepted the “challenge” that Trump had given him.

“A very sensitive calculation is being done,” said a former US official, noting that Congress, not the president, is keeping the purse strings and will almost certainly reject many of the cuts proposed by the administration. “You declare your allegiance to the president and then you know that you will not really have to live with the president’s budget.”

However, it is not yet clear whether Trump and Tillerson have significant political differences or whether he can defend his department against some of Trump’s closest aides, such as Steve Bannon, who want to dismantle parts of the federal government and limit America’s engagement. with the world, he said. three of the current and former officials.

The former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp (N 🙂 has faced multiple challenges in his first weeks as America’s chief diplomat, including unpredictable political pronouncements from Trump.

White House officials vetoed Elliot Abrams, Tillerson’s pick for undersecretary, the second-highest job in the department, one of the current officials said. With that job still vacant, it has not been possible to fill the other senior positions in the department.

Despite that defeat, Michael Anton, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the White House holds Tillerson in high regard.

“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.

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

Tillerson has kept a low profile since joining the administration seven weeks ago, spent little time with key State Department officials and only held his first press conference Thursday in Tokyo.

He has received criticism from many State Department officials who believe he has failed to cultivate potential allies in the Trump cabinet and on Capitol Hill.

Chas Freeman, a seasoned diplomat since the Nixon administration, 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.