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Trump Expected To Name His Pick For Secretary Of State Soon


And there are reports still unconfirmed that President-elect Donald Trump has settled on ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state. Tillerson has no experience in government or diplomacy and his possible nomination has surprised a lot of people in the world of foreign policy. And joining us now to talk about this is a prominent member of that world. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Mr. Haass, good morning.

RICHARD HAASS: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So I know this is not over till it's over. Tillerson has yet to be actually nominated. But how would you see him in the role of secretary of state?

HAASS: Well, look, any secretary of state to be effective first and foremost needs to be close to the president. He also needs to be knowledgeable about the - all the issues and has to be comfortable and knowledgeable about how foreign policy is made - how the sausage is made. So the biggest variable would be Mr. Tillerson's relationship with the president, which is something essentially Mr. Trump controls. The other question's, you know, he's an outsider who knows a lot about the world.


HAASS: There's some difference between knowing about the world and knowing about foreign policy. And he'd obviously need to surround himself with people who had experience on the ground inside the department and around the interagency process.

GREENE: A lot of the worry - criticism that we've heard so far is that he has done business with countries like Russia, I mean, oil and gas deals over the years. And, I mean, the interests of his company and the interests of the United States when dealing with Russia - not always identical, right? I mean, how would Tillerson deal with that?

HAASS: Well, exactly. And you're already seeing certain Republicans like Lindsey Graham and John McCain and others raise those questions.


HAASS: Obviously it would be central to any confirmation if it gets to that point. And that's just the sort of thing he would have to deal with. He would have to say, here's why I did what I did at the time. Here's how I'm going to separate myself from it now. Here's how I view Russia and how I would approach policy toward Russia. So this is now probably the biggest single set of questions he would have to tackle. And I think the real question is whether this question is large enough to get in his way - in the way first of his nomination and if the nomination goes ahead, about whether it goes - gets in the way of his confirmation.

GREENE: So I guess we're getting a preview of what some of the tough questions might be in a confirmation process. Let me ask you this question in a different way. I mean, is there an argument that Tillerson would really be fulfilling Donald Trump's promise to his supporters to shake things up and that he could be successful? I mean, a tough negotiator. He's been in the business world. He's been in the trenches making high-stakes deals with foreign governments. I mean, you know, could this be a different kind of secretary of state that really could get a lot of things done?

HAASS: Well, he would be somewhat different. You know, he's not a lawyer, which a lot of secretaries of states - and he's not someone who comes from the inside one way or another who's an experienced diplomat. And quite honestly, that's always the plus and minus of an outsider. Outsiders can come in and bring creativity and really take. And outsiders can come in, say like Paul O'Neill who became the secretary of the Treasury and couldn't translate what he did in the private sector into the public sector. So these are one-offs and it's just hard to generalize.

GREENE: Early in the campaign you met with Donald Trump to talk foreign policy. There was even some speculation that you were on the list of possible nominees for secretary of state. Were you ever, I mean, did the transition team ever talk to you about the job?

HAASS: I've talked to the transition team and to Mr. Trump recently about foreign policy, but no one has spoken to me about the job of secretary of state, no.

GREENE: Would you want that job?

HAASS: That's a complicated question.

GREENE: (Laughter).

HAASS: I think you've always got to - look, you know, I think it's important to serve your country if you're given the chance. I think though what I said before about what it takes to be a successful secretary of state, I think you not only do need a close relationship with the president but there's got to be fundamental alignment between you and the president on some of the most central issues. So that's the kind of conversation any candidate would need to have with any president to make sure that this combination works. Because in my career I've seen people who have thrived in that job, say a Jim Baker for George Bush the father. And without mentioning names I've seen people who haven't thrived in that job, different secretaries and different presidents.

GREENE: Just about 20 seconds left. I mean, if you don't fundamentally align with Donald Trump, what is the one place where we would see that most starkly?

HAASS: Well, just recently, for example, I've had real differences with him about China policy. I do believe that the one-China policy serves American interests well. I also believe that the post-World War II support of international trade agreements on balance has served this country well both economically and strategically.

GREENE: OK. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, also a former adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Thanks so much for joining us this morning.

HAASS: Thanks for having me Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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