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Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to be the next U.S. secretary of state, suggested to lawmakers on Capitol Hill today that the United States would enforce a stronger, more assertive role overseas than the Obama administration if he is confirmed.
"To achieve the stability that is foundational to peace and security in the 21st century, American leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted," Tillerson said in the opening statement of his confirmation hearing this morning.
In an apparent attempt to ease fears that the incoming administration will ignore any adversarial actions of the Russian regime, Tillerson voiced some firm objections to recent Russian aggression.
Russia is a "danger" to the United States and economic sanctions are a "powerful tool" in the U.S. arsenal, Tillerson said today.
Democratic and Republican senators alike have been challenging the former ExxonMobil chief's policy on Russia all morning.
He said Russia’s invasion of Crimea was illegal and that the United States should have responded with “a proportional show of force.”
The “absence of a firm and forceful response to Crimea was judged by Russia to be weak,” Tillerson said, and paved the way for its later invasion of Ukraine.
Asked how he would have responded at the time, Tillerson said he would have recommended the United States help Ukraine defend itself by providing it with weapons and intelligence, actions the Obama administrations was reluctant to take.
On a different topic, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., asked Tillerson whether Russian President Vladimir Putin should be considered a war criminal in wake of the bombing campaign his military has conducted in the Syrian city of Aleppo. Tillerson said, “I would not use that term.”
Tillerson also said he did not have enough information to validate claims that Putin orders the killing of his political enemies. “I would have to have more information,” he told Rubio.
Tillerson appeared to embrace existing U.S. sanctions on Russia, saying, they “are a powerful tool and an important tool in terms of deterring additional action once actors have acted."
Before delivering his opening remarks, Tillerson was endorsed by three prominent witnesses, including Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as well as former CIA chief and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In his opening remarks, Tillerson suggested that he wants to embrace Trump's stated interest in becoming friendlier with Russia, while remaining "clear eyed," as he put it, about the relationship.
"[Russia] has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war," Tillerson said. "Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia."
But Tillerson blamed the Obama administration for allowing Russia to believe it could behave badly.
"It was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent," Tillerson said. "We backtracked on commitments we made to allies. We sent weak or mixed signals with “red lines” that turned into green lights."
Officials close to the Trump transition team have high confidence in Tillerson, 64, and say they expected him to impress his critics.
2017.01.12 / 13:12