WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump announced the departure of his top diplomat Rex Tillerson, to be succeeded by the current CIA chief Mike Pompeo, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate negotiations with North Korea, White House officials said yesterday.
Trump asked Tillerson to step aside last Friday, and the embattled diplomat cut short his trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.
Pompeo will replace him at the State Department, and Gina Haspel — the deputy director at the CIA — will succeed him at the CIA, becoming the first woman to run the spy agency, if confirmed.
In a statement issued to The Washington Post, Trump praised both Pompeo and Haspel.
“I am proud to nominate the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Pompeo, to be our new secretary of state,” Trump said.
“Mike graduated first in his class at West Point, served with distinction in the US Army, and graduated with Honours from Harvard Law School. He went on to serve in the House of Representatives with a proven record of working across the aisle.”
“Gina Haspel, the deputy director of the CIA, will be nominated to replace Pompeo and she will be CIA’s first female director, a historic milestone. Mike and Gina have worked together for more than a year, and have developed a great mutual respect.”
Trump also had words of praise for Tillerson.
“Finally, I want to thank Rex Tillerson for his service. A great deal has been accomplished over the last 14 months, and I wish him and his family well.”
White House officials said the president — who has long clashed with Tillerson, who he believes is “too establishment” in his thinking — felt it was important to make the change now, as he prepares for talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“I am grateful to President Trump for permitting me to serve as director of the CIA and for this opportunity to serve as secretary of state,” Pompeo said in a statement.
“His leadership has made America safer and I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America’s prosperity.
“Serving alongside the great men and women of the CIA, the most dedicated and talented public servants I have encountered, has been one of the great honours of my life.” — Agencies