Tillerson calls for unity, understanding as he starts at State Department | Reuters

By Lesley Wroughton
| WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for understanding and unity as he took the helm at the State Department on Thursday, as many countries seek greater clarity over foreign policy moves taken by the White House that have antagonized a range of allies.Hundreds of State Department officials waited over an hour for the arrival of Tillerson, who was delayed at a national prayer breakfast with U.S. President Donald Trump.The former Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) chairman was greeted with applause, although it was not as loud as when Tillerson thanked Acting Secretary of State Tom Shannon, who was left in charge after the departure of John Kerry."At this year's prayer breakfast people felt the need to pray a little longer," Tillerson, who was sworn in on Wednesday, joked, later saying: "Hi, I'm the new guy." The Senate confirmed Tillerson to his post on Wednesday despite concerns about his ties to Russia. Trump has called for better ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his remarks, Tillerson addressed internal dissent that emerged in a memo this week signed by more than 900 State Department officials in protest against Trump's decision to suspend the U.S. refugee program and restrict most travellers from entering the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries."One of the great challenges and thrills for the State Department staff is deciding how to confront changing conditions in every corner of the world," said Tillerson, "I encourage all of you to use your natural and well developed skills to adapt to changes here at home as well."I know this was a hotly contested election and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome, each of us is entitled to expression of our political beliefs, but we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team," said Tillerson.

Tillerson will meet later in the day with Jordan's King Abdullah and new German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.Tillerson inherits a messy globe with civil war in Syria, nuclear-armed North Korea threatening to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, and increasing violence in eastern Ukraine.

Over the past 48 hours more foreign policy challenges piled up as tensions erupted between the U.S. and ally Australia over an existing refugee swap deal, which Trump called a "dumb deal."Iran pushed back on Thursday at a warning by the White Huose that put Tehran on notice for test-firing a ballistic missile.Tillerson also takes over at a time of stained relations with Mexico after Trump vowed to build a wall between the two countries. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Tom Brown)

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Published Date: Feb 03, 2017 12:16 am | Updated Date: Feb 03, 2017 12:16 am


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