Trump’s secretary of State nominee says fighting ‘radical Islam’ top priority
Washington - Rex Tillerson, US President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the next secretary of State, said that fighting “radical Islam” would be the State Department’s “foremost priority in the Middle East” under his leadership.
Tillerson was responding to intense questioning January 11th by members of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. The Senate must confirm Trump’s cabinet-level nominees before they take office.
Tillerson, the former chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, told the senators that “we need to be honest about radical Islam… and murderous acts committed in its name against America and our friends”. He said radical Islam “poses a grave risk to the stability of nations and the well-being of their citizens”.
“Powerful digital media platforms now allow ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terror groups 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,” Tillerson said.
The key to defeating radical Islam, he said, was to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS). “The demise of ISIS,” Tillerson said, “would also allow us to increase our attention on other agents of radical Islam like al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and certain elements within Iran”.
Including the Muslim Brotherhood in this list suggests that Tillerson would advocate for designating that group a terrorist organisation, something that the Obama administration resisted doing despite appeals from many in Congress.
Tillerson also said that under his leadership the State Department would “do its part in supporting Muslims around the world who reject radical Islam in all its forms”. He did not specify whether he meant bolstering governments such as that of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or providing economic assistance to address underlying social issues.
The 64-year-old Tillerson, who has never served in government, faced aggressive questioning over his opinions towards Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Despite prodding by Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, Tillerson refused to label Putin a “war criminal” because of Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict, which by many accounts included attacks on civilian targets in Aleppo and elsewhere. “Those are very serious charges to make and I’d want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion,” Tillerson said.
In a break with what had been a major theme of Trump’s election campaign, Tillerson said he would not support a ban on Muslims entering the United States, saying he opposed “a blanket-type rejection of any particular group of people”. He also declared his opposition to a nationwide registry of Muslims in the United States, another Trump campaign pledge, questioning “how such an approach would even be constructed”.