• ‘Ties with US cannot get any worse’


    MOSCOW: The Kremlin on Wednesday said ties with the US could not get any worse under next Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, after the sacking of Rex Tillerson.

    “It’s hardly possible to fall below the floor, so it is unlikely things will get any worse in this regard,” President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a response to a question about the high-level staff changes in the US administration announced on Tuesday.

    “In any case there of course remains the hope of a constructive and sober approach to bilateral ties. There is always this hope,” Peskov said at a regular press briefing.

    Tillerson in his farewell remarks this week warned Washington must do more to respond to Russia’s “troubling behavior and actions.”

    “Russia must assess carefully as to how its actions are in the best interests of the Russian people and of the world more broadly,” he said.

    “Continuing on their current trajectory is likely to lead to greater isolation on their part, a situation which is not in anyone’s interest.”

    The US has accused Russia of actively interfering in the 2016 presidential election, stealing Democratic party communications and pushing out disinformation through social media, claims Moscow denies.

    Pompeo said in his previous role as CIA director that the agency had observed Russian activity to influence the next US election cycle, the November mid-terms.

    Donald Trump on Tuesday sacked his top diplomat Rex Tillerson and named current CIA chief Mike Pompeo to succeed him, ending a rocky tenure by the Texas oilman who had frequently been at odds with the mercurial US president.

    A senior White House official said Trump wanted to reshuffle his team with a view to launching talks with North Korea, following last week’s spectacular announcement that he plans to meet Kim Jong Un by the end of May.

    While Trump thanked Tillerson “for his service,” he was sparing in his praise of the 65-year-old former Exxon chief, long rumored to be on the way out.

    Before leaving on a trip to California, Trump spoke openly of their differences—singling out the Iran nuclear deal—as he explained the rationale for the latest departure from his chaotic White House.

    “We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things,” Trump told reporters. “When you look at the Iran deal, I thought it was terrible, he thought it was okay.”

    The remark suggests Tillerson’s sacking spells trouble for the agreement, under which Iran surrendered much of its nuclear infrastructure and opened the rest to international inspection in exchange for sanctions relief.

    “I wish Rex a lot of good things,” the president said. “I think Rex will be much happier now.”

    The outgoing secretary of state, who returned overnight from a trip to Africa, did not address reports he only learned of his sacking when Trump tweeted the decision, saying only he had since spoken to the president.

    In his farewell remarks Tuesday, he said Washington must do more to respond to Russia’s “troubling behavior”—one day after slamming Moscow for its alleged involvement in an attempted assassination using a nerve agent in Britain.

    Tillerson will pass authority at midnight to Deputy Secretary John Sullivan, remaining at the department for handover purposes until March 31.

    In announcing the reshuffle, Trump lavished praise on Pompeo, a former US army officer and congressman who led the CIA for nearly 14 months, calling him “the right person for the job at this critical juncture.”

    “He will continue our program of restoring America’s standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Trump added.

    China voiced hope on Wednesday Donald Trump’s sudden firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will not impact bilateral relations or planned talks between the US president and North Korea’s leader.

    Beijing is believed to have a positive assessment of Tillerson, who was seen as a light touch in contrast to Trump’s “good cop, bad cop” routine of slamming Beijing on Twitter while simultaneously flattering its leadership in person.

    “We hope that this personnel change will at the least not have any effect on the development of Sino-US bilateral relations or Sino-US cooperation in some important areas,” foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a regular press briefing.

    The firing comes as Trump prepares for delicate talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

    Lu said China hopes that the US “can maintain the positive situation that has recently developed on the Korean peninsula, including the positive desire shown by both the American and North Korean sides for willing, direct talks.”



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