BRUSSELS (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his handling of America’s foreign service on Tuesday during a visit to Brussels, seeking to reassure U.S. diplomats of American support under President Donald Trump.
In his first substantive public comments since reports last week of a White House plan to oust him from his post, Tillerson said despite “a little criticism”, he was on top of his job.
“While we don’t have any wins on the board yet, I can tell you we’re in a much better position to advance America’s interests around the world than we were 10 months ago,” he told senior U.S. diplomats and U.S. embassy staff at the U.S. mission to Belgium in Brussels.
U.S. officials said on Thursday the White House had a plan for CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson but Trump said on Friday he was not leaving and the secretary of state said on Saturday the reports were untrue.
But Trump has also said he alone determines U.S. foreign policy.
Speaking to U.S. staff in the European Union’s de-facto capital, Brussels, where the United States has filled its ambassadorial post at NATO, but not two others, Tillerson said “the State Department is not missing a beat,” in terms of U.S. diplomacy.
Tillerson made his comments before a meeting with the Belgian prime minister in Brussels on Tuesday. He is also set to meet EU and NATO ambassadors later on Tuesday and Wednesday. He will go to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on Thursday and Paris on Friday.
Tillerson said he would announce changes to the State Department in the coming weeks. The forcing out of many senior diplomats, the failure to nominate or to win Senate confirmation for officials to fill many major agency roles, and a perception that Tillerson is inaccessible have eroded morale, according to current officials.
Tillerson said, however, the department was running well.
Reporting by Robin Emmott. Editing by Jane Merriman