Tillerson Calls for 'Open and Frank Dialogue with Russia Regarding Its Ambitions'

By Susan Jones | January 11, 2017 | 10:24 AM EST

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., right, and the committee's ranking member, Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., stand with Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, prior to the start of Tillerson's confirmation hearing before the committee. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

(CNSNews.com) - Rex Tillerson, nominated to serve as Donald Trump's secretary of state, said the United States must be "clear-eyed about its relationship with Russia."

In his opening statement to the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the former ExxonMobil CEO called for an "open and frank dialogue...so that we know how to chart our own course.

"Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies," Tillerson said. "Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions."

Here is a transcript of his opening remarks on Russia:
We must also be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia. Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests. It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia.

But it was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent. We backtracked on commitments we made to allies. We sent weak or mixed signals with “red lines” that turned into green lights. We did not recognize that Russia does not think like we do.

Words alone do not sweep away an uneven and at times contentious history between our two nations. But we need an open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambitions, so that we know how to chart our own course.

Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.

Tillerson also addressed the "grave risk" posed by "radical Islam," as terrorists use digital media  platforms to "spread a poisonous ideology that runs completely counter to the values of the American people and all people around the world who value human life."

Nations, organizations and individuals "must face consequences" for aiding and abetting radical Islamists, Tillerson said.

"The most urgent step in thwarting radical Islam is defeating ISIS," Tillerson said. "Defeating ISIS must be our foremost priority in the Middle East. He noted that defeat won't happen on the battlefield alone: "We must win the war of ideas."

"If confirmed, I will ensure the State Department does its part in supporting Muslims around the world who reject radical Islam in all its forms," Tillerson added.

And finally, on China, Tillerson called Bejing's island-building in the South China Sea "an illegal taking of disputed areas without regard for international norms."

He noted that China steals U.S. intellectual property and is "aggressive" in the digital realm.

"It has not been a reliable partner in using its full influence to curb North Korea. China has proven a willingness to act with abandon in pursuit of its own goals, which at times has put it in conflict with America’s interests.

"We have to deal with what we see, not with what we hope," Tillerson said.