Tillerson: Foreign Leaders Ready for Re-Engagement After Period of ‘Neglect,' 'Dismissal of Their Concerns’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 19, 2017 | 4:13am EDT


President Trump walks with Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz at the White House on March 14, 2017. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says domestic politics are not affecting the president’s credibility with foreign leaders. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

(CNSNews.com) – People around the world “do not have the time to pay attention to what’s happening domestically” in the United States, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday, disputing a suggestion that difficulties facing President Trump at home may be affecting his credibility or hampering foreign policy.

On the contrary, Tillerson described the attitude of foreign leaders as one of expectation and of welcoming “America returning to the scene.”

“I have had the opportunity now to pretty well interact and meet with leaders from Europe to Russia to Central Asia to the Middle East, to Africa, to Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, so I have a pretty good exposure now to the – globally – to how the world is seeing the current administration,” he told reporters at the State Department.

After a period viewed by many leaders – especially in the region the president is about the visit – as one of “neglect, to outright dismissal of their concerns,” Tillerson continued, “they’re ready for re-engagement with America.”

Speaking alongside Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and visiting Mexican ministers, the secretary of state added that there was “a great anticipation of the president’s trip as to what could be accomplished.”

As far as the possible impact of the political situation in Washington goes, Tillerson said, “I think the people in the rest of the world take – do not have the time to pay attention to what’s happening domestically here.”

“They are more concerned about what they see happening in the relationship with their country and what we are bringing to address these very serious challenges that are affecting all of us.” 

Kelly, too, dismissed the notion that domestic political developments were affecting dealings with foreign counterparts.

“I interact with a fairly large number of international players, often – most often by phone, but Europeans, Latin Americans, Central Americans, Africans, I mean across the globe – and they are working with us as partners on a range of issues: aviation security, drugs as you’ve heard here today, immigration,” he said.

“So I feel no effect at – from when the president is, say, taken to task in the press about something he may or may not have said, and certainly something he may or may not have meant.”

Amid continuing fallout over the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, ongoing charges of collusion between Russia and his campaign, a spate of West Wing leaks, and the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Russian election interference claims, Trump leaves the U.S. on Friday for his first trip abroad as president.

His first stop is Saudi Arabia for bilateral meetings and a much-anticipated summit with Arab and Islamic leaders, before heading to Israel and then to Europe, where the itinerary includes a meeting with Pope Francis and G7 and NATO summits.

The White House has indicated that the fight against Islamist radicalism and terror will be a key theme on the trip. A planned speech in Riyadh, according to National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, will focus on “the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam.”

While in the kingdom the president will also inaugurate a new center aimed at fighting radicalism where, McMaster said, “our Muslim friends, including Saudi Arabia, are taking a firm stand against extremism and those who use a perverted interpretation of religion to advance their criminal and political agendas.”

Tillerson said the trip would convey the message that “America is back, in terms of our role as a convener, our role as a facilitator, to address the daunting challenges that exist in that part of the world, most particularly the challenge of global terrorism.”

Expanding on the theme that “we are in this together,” Tillerson said the battle against terrorism was not about religions or cultures but “a battle about good and evil.”

“The goodness of people of all faiths will prevail over this evil, and that is the president’s message he’ll be taking,” he said. “And he will be convening people globally to confront this face of evil wherever it presents itself in the world. There is a great anticipation around that leadership.”

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