President Donald Trump ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, appointing Gina Haspel instead of him.
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
This is a major shake-up of Trump's cabinet. Tillerson was made to cut short his trip to Africa and return to Washington the day before the announcement, as preparations were underway for a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Haspel was the deputy director of the CIA. She is the first woman to lead the US intelligence service.
Tillerson has recently taken an ambivalent stance towards North Korea. In mid-February, he said that he was “listening” to Pyongyang, adding that it is his job to “ensure” the North Koreans know that Washington keeps the negotiation channels open. At the same time, he also said that the US still prefers the policy of “large sticks” in relations with North Korea.
On timing of Rex Tillerson’s firing, senior White House aide says: “The president wanted to make sure to have his new team in place in advance of the upcoming talks with North Korea and various ongoing trade negotiations.”
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) March 13, 2018
Pompeo seems to have taken a more hard-line approach. On Sunday, he said that Trump would make no “concessions” to the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. Speaking to Fox News, he also said that Pyongyang must stop its missile tests and “allow” the US to conduct military drills in the region. North Korea should also leave discussions for denuclearization on the table, he added.
Pompeo thanked Trump for the “opportunity to serve as Secretary of State” and said that he was “honored” to work as the head of the CIA.
Tillerson was also out of sync with the White House regarding the case of Sergei Skripal, the former double agent who was poisoned in the UK. Tillerson said he didn’t know whether the Russian government had any knowledge of the attack, but agreed with British investigators that Moscow was “likely responsible.” By contrast, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders refused to attribute responsibility for the incident, suggesting that more proof was needed to draw any definite conclusions.
Relations between Trump and Tillerson have reportedly been strained for quite some time. Back in October 2017, NBC said that Tillerson called the president a “moron” and threatened to resign. The Secretary of State then dismissed reports about his intention to leave his post. He repeatedly declined to deny reports that he called Trump a “moron,” however.
In mid-October 2017, it was also reported that Trump sought to undermine Tillerson’s diplomatic initiatives with North Korea. The top US diplomat also dismissed those reports and vowed to continue diplomatic efforts “until the first bomb drops.”