Rex Tillerson: NATO allies have ‘right to be alarmed’ at Russia

NATO allies have a “right to be alarmed” at Russia and sanctions against the country should continue, according to Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State.

Rex Tillerson told the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee: “While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests.”

The former ExxonMobil chief executive was speaking during his confirmation hearing, which was interrupted sporadically by protesters.

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Mr Tillerson, 64, was a controversial choice as he has extensive business dealings in Russia and is known to be close to President Vladimir Putin.

His remarks on Russia in his opening statement came against a backdrop of controversy over Moscow’s alleged interference in the US election.

He said it was a “fair assumption” that Mr Putin was aware of Russian efforts to interfere in the election. 

And he added that “we need an open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambitions, so we know how to chart our own course”.

Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin
Image Caption:Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin in 2011

 

At one point in the confirmation hearing, Mr Tillerson was asked if Mr Putin was a war criminal because of his actions in Chechnya and Syria.

“I would not use that term” he replied.

“Those are very, very serious charges to make and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion.”

But he did say that he was in favour of keeping US sanctions against Russia for now.

He said: “I would leave things in the status quo so we are able to convey this can go either way.”

Later he added: “I would recommend maintaining the status quo until we are able to engage with Russia and understand better what their intentions are.”

Rex Tillerson sits in on his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on January 11, 2017
Image Caption:Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing for Secretary of State is being closely watched

 

Mr Tillerson also hit out at China, saying Beijing pursued its own goals and had not sufficiently helped in reining in North Korea.

“China has proven a willingness to act with abandon in the pursuit of its own goals which at times has put it in conflict with American interests,” he said.

“We have to deal with what we see, not what we hope. It has not been a reliable partner in using its full influence to curb North Korea.” 

But he said disagreements with China did not mean that “productive partnership” could not be pursued on other matters.

Mr Tillerson also said that he would recommend a “full review” of the nuclear deal with Iran but did not call for an outright rejection of the accord.

President-elect Donald Trump at one point threatened to pull out of the deal.


 

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