Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his week in Europe sought to shoot down any perceptions of distance between him and President Donald Trump.
He faced questions from allies at every turn about the president’s most controversial decisions, including his bombshell midweek announcement that the U.S. was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
But Tillerson defiantly made his way around Europe regardless. And when asked by reporters when he’s planning to leave his post, the secretary of state said, “You all need to get some new sources.”
On Tuesday in Brussels, he stood next to the European Union’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, while she condemned the U.S. for abandoning the Iran nuclear deal. The next day at the NATO headquarters, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, ahead of walking into a meeting with Tillerson, called the U.S.’s Jerusalem decision a “grave mistake.”
After that, the U.K.’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stepped away from Tillerson to insist that the U.S. implement their Middle East process immediately.
Throughout the week, Tillerson faced questions from the press about whether the U.S.’s European allies will still stand with the U.S., given the new administration has abandoned the Europeans on agreements like the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal.
But Tillerson seemed to suggest that the door is still open on issues that Trump has wholly dismissed.
“[The] truth of the matter is, we’ve not disengaged from the climate discussions,” Tillerson said at press conference in Vienna. He noted that the U.S. still sent a representative to the United Nations’ Climate Change conference. In the past, Trump has seemed skeptical of climate change.
And though the president has called the Iran deal an “embarrassment,” Tillerson said this week the U.S. is still a part of the deal.
“We are using that agreement and working with our European partners in particular to truly hold Iran accountable to its responsibilities as to its nuclear program,” he said.
Regarding the announcement on Jerusalem, Tillerson seemed to downplay the president’s words. “The reality is as you wake up today after this announcement … nothing is different, other than the president has now implemented the 1995 law.”
He added: “[Trump] also made a statement regarding the final status of Jerusalem was something that is left for the parties to negotiate.”
Tillerson had a short break from rebukes at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, where Ukraine was top of the agenda. He sought to rally European allies to be more aggressive with Russia, calling it “biggest threat to European security.”
He also came seeking commitments from Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to protect peacekeeping forces in Ukraine and to ultimately halt Russian aggression in the region.
On Thursday, when asked what type of progress came of meeting with Lavrov, Tillerson said, “We get progress, that’s what we get.”
We get dialogue, we get cooperation,” he added. “We don’t have it solved. You don’t solve it in one meeting.
Tillerson called Ukraine “single most difficult obstacle to normalizing relations with Russia,” omitting any mentions of election interference or cyberhacking.
For his part, Lavrov was one of the few leaders who did not publicly condemn Tillerson for the Jerusalem announcement. In fact, when pressed, he claimed he couldn’t hear a question on the matter twice shouted by ABC News.
The next day in Paris, Tillerson faced pushback on Jerusalem from the French President Emmanuel Macron and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri while he sat in the front row of the French foreign minister’s office watching their statements.
Tillerson also weighed in on Saudi Arabia’s blocking humanitarian aid to Yemen, saying, “I think we would encourage [the Saudis] to be a bit more measured and a bit more thoughtful in those actions to, I think, fully consider the consequences.”