WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Thursday offered the chance for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take reporters to Asia after initially breaking decades of tradition by telling the media that he would not. .
“We are still working on the logistics for this trip, so we cannot yet speak definitively about whether we will be able to accommodate the press on the secretary’s plane,” wrote State Department spokesman Mark Toner in an email. . Going forward, the State Department will make every effort to accommodate a contingent of traveling media aboard the Secretary’s plane. ”
The State Department told reporters earlier this week that Tillerson would not take any of them on a March 15-19 trip to Japan, South Korea and China, countries of strategic, military and economic interest to the United States. .
Major news organizations complained, including the BBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and Reuters.
North Korea, which launched four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan’s northwest coast on Monday, enraging both South Korea and Japan, is likely to be a key theme of Tillerson’s trip.
When asked earlier this week why Tillerson was not taking the media with him, a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters that the plane “is too small to accommodate … has a much smaller footprint in terms of personnel, and that’s not just push.
Toner did not respond when asked if Tillerson had tried to get a larger Air Force plane or how the department would respond to critics who described the plan as counterproductive.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other former State Department officials questioned Tillerson’s plan, saying that by including journalists, the top U.S. diplomat could make the case for the administration and prevent other countries from dominating coverage of the policy. American.
Albright, secretary of state under Democrat Bill Clinton, told MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on Wednesday that taking over the media demonstrates America’s commitment to a free press.
Republican President Donald Trump has accused the media of “fake news” and called journalists “the enemy of the people.”
Richard Boucher, a retired American diplomat who served as a State Department spokesman from 2000 to 2005 under Albright, as well as Republicans Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, did not recall a time during his tenure when journalists did not travel in the plane.
Since becoming secretary of state on February 1, Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp (NYSE :), has traveled to Germany and Mexico, in both cases inviting fewer outlets than his predecessors for at least the past 50 years. years.
Veteran State Department television correspondent Marvin Kalb said that William Rogers, Richard Nixon’s first Secretary of State, began taking the press with him in 1969 and, with rare exceptions such as Henry Kissinger’s secret trip to China in 1971, that was the practice.
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