Donald Trump sacked Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state on Tuesday, following months of speculation that the former ExxonMobil chief executive would be ousted from the post.
The president tweeted on Tuesday morning that Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, would be the new secretary of state, predicting he would do a “fantastic job”. He added that Gina Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, would become the new director of the agency.
Mr Trump told reporters: “I think Rex will be much happier now. With Mike Pompeo we have a very good chemistry. “[With Tillerson] It was a different mindset. It was a different thinking.”
Mr Tillerson’s ousting comes at a critical time for US diplomacy as Mr Trump prepares to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un amid a backdrop of repeated threats between the two leaders and heightened tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.
The administration is also wresting with how to respond to allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election campaign, and whether to withdraw from the Obama-era nuclear deal with Iran. Mr Tillerson’s departure comes only days after Mr Trump angered allied by announcing new tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.
Mr Trump said he was confident that Mr Pompeo is “the right person for the job at this critical juncture” and that he will continue his administration’s programme of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening alliances, confronting adversaries, and seeking the de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
A spokesman for Mr Tillerson said the former oil executive had “had every intention of staying”, citing critical progress in national security, and had not discussed his firing with Mr Trump.
“The secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason,” said Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, who had sought to boost Mr Tillerson’s public profile following his appointment late last year.
Mr Tillerson, who rose through the ranks of Exxon to become its chief executive over a 41-year career with the company, was widely been seen as instrumental in leading the administration’s diplomatic pressure campaign on North Korea, encouraging countries to go beyond tough global sanctions he helped introduce at the United Nations.
But Mr Trump has also regularly tweeted his dissatisfaction with Mr Tillerson, telling him last year he was “wasting his time” attempting to negotiate with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
Mr Tillerson had spent months attempting to craft a relationship from scratch with a president whom he met for the first time during an ad hoc interview after the 2016 presidential election. The secretary of state also faced rivalries with the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and national security adviser HR McMaster, and dissent from his own ranks as he pursued a reform programme that included unpopular cuts to the state department.
In recent days, Mr Tillerson appeared to distance himself from Mr Trump’s historic decision to hold talks with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, framing it as “a decision the president took himself”.
Mr Tillerson, who cut short a working trip to Africa, landed back in Washington early on Tuesday, just hours before Mr Trump made the announcement.