Donald Trump's White House is planning to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has been promoting the plan as a result of major policy differences between President Trump and Secretary Tillerson on issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, the crisis between Qatar and its neighbors, and the nuclear threat from North Korea. Tillerson is expected to leave his post by early 2018, according to the New York Times.
Reuters independently confirmed the report, as a senior administration official claimed the plan has been in the works for a number of weeks.
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Tillerson was unaware of any plans to oust him when he spoke to Senator Bob Corker on Thursday, Corker said.
"He's conducting business, as is the norm, and is unaware of anything changing,” Corker, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.
Pompeo, a former Republican Congressman from Kansas, is considered more hawkish than Tillerson. Shortly before beginning his role at the CIA, he called publicly for withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran. Tillerson, meanwhile, was one of the most prominent members of Trump's administration who called not to withdraw from the deal, but instead to remain committed to it and make sure it is rigorously enforced.
Tillerson and Trump had a public spat in early October after reports surfaced that Tillerson had called Trump a "moron" during a meeting at the Pentagon over the summer. Tillerson never confirmed the report, but Trump soon after challenged Tillerson to an IQ test.
Word of the White House plan will significantly complicate Tillerson’s ability to conduct diplomacy and run the State Department for as long as he stays, given that foreign governments may now consider him a “lame duck.” Foreign leaders had anticipated Tillerson was likely to attend a scheduled gathering of NATO foreign ministers next week in Brussels, though the State Department hadn’t confirmed that.
Tillerson had been scheduled to speak Thursday at an event about global efforts to fight AIDS. Late Wednesday, the State Department said he would be represented by his deputy instead.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report