The Real Reason Behind the Rex Tillerson Firing & How It Could Spell Disaster When Donald Trump Meets Kim Jong Un

One minute Rex Tillerson was U.S. Secretary of State and fourth in line to the presidency; the next minute he was fired over Twitter by President Donald Trump. The abrupt move left many wondering just what the future holds for some exceedingly delicate situations between the U.S. and other countries. (Think North Korea and Russia.)

Here we’ll list the official reasons behind Tillerson’s firing and speculate on some unofficial reasons that are, shall we say, a bit more personal (pages 5 and 6). We’ll also look at how Trump’s talks with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un might be in jeopardy now that Tillerson is gone (page 8).

1. A difference in chemistry

Trump and Tillerson

Donald Trump fired Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State on March 13, 2018. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Although Trump’s March 13 morning tweet announcing Tillerson’s departure didn’t list a reason, the president later spoke with reporters outside the White House regarding it. “We got along actually quite well, but we disagreed on things,” Trump said.

Trump announced plans to nominate CIA director Mike Pompeo to take over the role after Tillerson is out March 31, 2018. “With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process,” Trump said. I think it’s going to go very well.”

Next: A too hard-lined stance on Russia?

2. Tillerson’s stance on Russia

Rex Tillerson and Vladimir Putin

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Rex Tillerson attend a ceremony in 2012. | Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images

A significant factor behind Tillerson’s firing may be his take on Russia. His hard-line stance regarding the country’s policies differs from that of Trump, who is slower to criticize them. A recent case in point: After an attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in the U.K., Tillerson supported the U.K.’s assessment that Russia was responsible. Trump didn’t back Tillerson up.

In his parting statement, Tillerson had a warning for Russia. “Russia must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interest of the Russian people and of the world more broadly,” he said. “Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part, a situation which is not in anyone’s interest.”

Next: Disagreements over the Iran nuclear deal

3. Tillerson’s stance on Iran nuclear deal

Rex Tillerson at a press conference

Tillerson and Trump disagreed on how to handle the Iran nuclear deal. | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

In addition to Russia, Tillerson and Trump also disagreed publicly on the future of the Iran nuclear deal. Trump referred to this as a reason for firing Tillerson. “When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he thought it was OK.”

Trump had called the Iran agreement “the worst deal in history” and wished to withdraw from it. Tillerson called the deal flawed, but said it met its goal of freezing Iran’s nuclear program. He had been working with the U.S.’ NATO allies to solve the deadlock brought on by Trump’s position.

Next: Speaking of NATO…

4. They disagreed on NATO

Tillerson attends a NATO meeting.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attends a NATO meeting. | Virginia Mayo/AFP/Getty Images

The North American Treaty Organization (NATO) has been around since 1949. It’s an alliance between several North American and European countries to ensure the freedom and security of its members using political and military means. After becoming president, Trump dismissed the organization as irrelevant. Tillerson, however, had worked to soothe fears within the alliance caused by Trump’s stance.

Next: Could this be the real reason?

5. Tillerson reportedly called Trump a moron

Tillerson and Trump

There was reportedly some name calling. | Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Tillerson’s tense public relationship with Trump perhaps dates back to the time he reportedly called Trump a moron in July 2017. Tillerson openly made the comment after a Pentagon meeting with Cabinet officials and Trump’s security team, NBC News reported the following October.

Vice President Mike Pence urged Tillerson to maintain respect for the president in public while sorting out any differences privately, the NBC article quoted a White House official as saying. Tillerson never denied the name-calling, but a State Department spokeswoman later did. When asked, Trump dismissed the news report as “fake news.”

Next: Another rumored reason

6. Tillerson’s stance on Jared Kushner

Tillerson and Kushner

Jared Kushner holds a position of senior White House advisor. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Perhaps Tillerson’s ousting was related to tensions with Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner. According to reports, Tillerson complained repeatedly about what he perceived as an encroachment on his turf as Secretary of State by Kushner. Trump had tasked Kushner with working on Israeli-Palestinian relations among other global issues.

Tillerson also strenuously opposed Kushner’s stance on a blockade of the Gulf state Qatar imposed by four neighboring states, The Forward reported. When Tillerson opposed the blockade, he was shot down by Trump himself, who called Qatar “a funder of terrorism,” reports said.

Next: The big North Korea issue

7. They disagreed on North Korea

Trump and Tillerson

Trump and Tillerson didn’t always agree on North Korea policy. | Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

Tensions between Tillerson and Trump over North Korea spilled out into the open repeatedly. Trump seemed to publicly chide Tillerson’s handling of the crisis. After Tillerson announced diplomacy efforts, Trump tweeted Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket man.”

North Korea is just another example of how Tillerson’s globalist approach to diplomacy was at odds with the more nationalist approach favored by Trump. While Tillerson sought negotiations with the reclusive Asian regime, Trump pushed sanctions instead. All this left some baffled when Trump agreed to a May meeting with Kim Jong Un shortly before ousting Tillerson.

Next: How this will affect North Korea talks

Bad for North Korea negotiations?

Trump plans to meet Kim Jong Un in May 2018. | Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

As we mentioned, Trump plans to replace Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, whose ideology seems more in line with Trump’s nationalistic approach. This dramatic change comes just weeks before what could be the biggest foreign policy moment in decades — when Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Unlike Tillerson, Pompeo has spoken in favor of a total regime change in North Korea. Time has called his views “problematic” and “unlikely to inspire confidence in a regime wary of American capriciousness regarding international pacts.” How Kim is reacting to Pompeo’s new role and how it will affect his willingness to meet with Trump remains to be seen.

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