Tillerson offered the most extensive presentation to date of what President Donald Trump's "America First" mantra
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pauses while speaking to State Department employees, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the State Department in Washington. photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin, photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
03 of May 2017 15:40:01
WASHINGTON – Translating "America First" into diplomatic policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday declared the United States would no longer condition its foreign relationships on countries adopting U.S. values like human rights. He spoke to a State Department eager for answers about changing priorities and a sweeping, impending overhaul.Tillerson did not provide employees any details about the 2,300 jobs he plans to eliminate or how his proposed cut of roughly a quarter of the State Department budget might affect operations. Acknowledging widespread unease about the forthcoming changes, he pledged that diplomats would emerge from the agency's changes with "a much more satisfying, fulfilling career."[caption id="attachment_57949" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] State Department employees listen as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the State Department in Washington. Photo: AP/Jacquelyn Martin[/caption]Yet even as he left key administrative questions unanswered, Tillerson offered the most extensive presentation to date of what President Donald Trump's "America First" mantra, adopted during the campaign and carried into the White House, means for the U.S.'s relations around the world. Over the last two decades, he said, Washington had "lost track" of whether post-Cold War alliances were still serving U.S. interests."These are really important alliances, but we've got to bring them back into balance," Tillerson told a standing-room-only crowd in a State Department auditorium.The former Exxon Mobil CEO distinguished between U.S. "values" and "policies" that he said would drive his strategy. Policies can and must change, he said, while the challenge for diplomats is identifying how to best represent U.S. values. For the U.S.'s national security, he added, policies won't necessarily be contingent on values.Rights groups and lawmakers from both parties have raised concerns about the Trump administration deemphasizing human rights, pointing to Trump's warm interactions with leaders of nations like the Philippines and Egypt, which have experience democratic backsliding in recent years. Tillerson's remarks reinforced the notion that under Trump, the U.S. is willing to cut deals and cooperate closely with governments failing to improve their rights records."In some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can't achieve our national security goals," Tillerson said. "It really does create obstacles."
JOSH LEDERMANMATTHEW LEE