Trump picks ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as US secretary of state

Mr Trump's choice of the 64-year-old Texan will raise questions about his close ties to Russia and whether he will be able to separate business from national interest.

US president-elect Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary of state, ExxonMobil chairman and chief executive Rex Tillerson, at a conference in Abu Dhabi last month with Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State and chief executive of Adnoc. Courtesy Adnoc
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New York // US president-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday announced Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil chief executive, as his secretary of state, pitching him as a successful businessman with a history of striking major international deals.
The choice of the 64-year-old Texan will be welcomed in the Middle East, where he has close ties after a lifetime in the oil industry.
After days of speculation, Mr Trump announced his decision in now customary fashion - with an early morning tweet.
"I have chosen one of the truly great business leaders of the world, Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, to be Secretary of State," he wrote. "Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none."
Mr Tillerson "will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America's vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America's security and standing in the world", Mr Trump said.
Mr Tillerson had been expected to retire next year but now finds himself nominated to one of the Trump administration's most high-profile jobs.
"I am honoured by President-elect Trump's nomination and share his vision for restoring the credibility of the United States' foreign relations and advancing our country's national security," he said.
The announcement comes at the end of a lengthy vetting process. Mr Trump has at times turned it into something resembling a reality TV show, with selected leaks, hints and photos of the potential picks.
Mr Tillerson was chosen ahead of Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee.
His selection is typical of Mr Trump's other nominations, with a history of corporate success and deal making rather than any political track record. The pair hit it off in private meetings, according to members of the presidential transition team.
He joined Exxon as a production engineer in 1975 straight out of the University of Texas, Austin, working his way up to become chief executive in 2006.
He earned a reputation as an aggressive dealmaker, once flinging a book across the room during negotiations with the Yemen government.
As well as close ties to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, he proved his worth to the energy giant during his time in Russia, where he oversaw a flagship project during the 1990s.
He negotiated a string of major deals and forged relationships with president Vladimir Putin and Igor Sechin, the former deputy prime minister and now head of Rosneft, Russia's state oil company. Mr Sechin is sometimes referred to as Russia's second most powerful man.
Russia gave Mr Tillerson an Order of Friendship award in 2013.
Mr Tillerson has criticised sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea. In 2014, the company claimed that US and EU sanctions cost it as much as US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in joint ventures with Rosneft.
Indications are that those ties will now be scrutinised closely not just by Democrat opponents but senior figures in the Republican Party.
Senator Marco Rubio, who lost to Mr Trump in the Republican primaries, said he had serious concerns about the nomination.
"The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America's interests and will be a forceful advocate for America's foreign policy goals to the president within the administration and on the world stage," he said.
As if to stir further reaction, Moscow immediately praised the appointment.
"Russian representatives and not just the president have good, businesslike relations with Tillerson. He is a very solid figure," said Yury Ushakov, Mr Putin's senior policy aide.
The questions over Mr Tillerson's background also have raised speculation that former UN ambassador John Bolton, known for his hawkish views on Iraq and Iran, could serve as his deputy at the state department.
A former ExxonMobil employee, now at the Brookings Institute, defended Mr Tillerson's experience.
"The presumption that a CEO can't manage foreign policy is wrong. Great diplomats have come from many walks of life," said Suzanne Maloney.