Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears on Fox News Sunday with guardian and gate-keeper of the swamp Chris Wallace.
[Transcript] QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Fox News Sunday.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Pleased to be here, Chris.
QUESTION: Before we get to foreign affairs, I want to ask you as a native son of Texas and as the former chairman of and CEO of ExxonMobil your thoughts about Hurricane Harvey and especially the impact it’s having in the oil and gas sector there on the Gulf coast.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Chris, you’re correct; my wife and I are both native Texans. We still make our home in Texas, and our families are all in Texas. We have many, many friends, family that are in the affected areas, and both her and mine’s thoughts and prayers go out to those that are affected. Over 12 million is what I understand now in the state of Texas are being impacted.
I think with respect to the response the state of Texas and Governor Abbott are doing a remarkable job dealing with an ongoing event, and I think it’s important that people understand and recognize this is an ongoing event that they’re dealing with. President Trump has convened an all-cabinets meeting yesterday, and we’re going to have another one later this morning, to ensure that all agencies are doing everything they can to support the state of Texas in its response.
Now, with respect to the oil and gas industry, they have been through this many, many times. They are probably among the most prepared for these types of events. So they do a lot of pre-staging of capability, but there will be challenges that are created by a storm of this magnitude and a storm that’s going to last as long as this one is. I am confident that they will respond though capably, and the government agencies have facilitated that with some early action as well.
QUESTION: All right, let’s turn to your day job. North Korea fired three short-range missiles on Friday. What message do you think the Kim regime is sending?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, the firing of any ballistic missile is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and we do view it as a provocative act, a provocative act against the United States and our allies. And we continue to want the Kim regime to understand there is a different path that he can choose. The international community has been quite clear with the unanimous 15 to nothing approval of the UN Security Council resolution imposing the most stringent sanctions ever to be imposed on North Korea. There is also a unified international voice echoing our messages that no one wants to see a nuclear Korean Peninsula. So we are all unified in our mission to see a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We hope for the opportunity to engage with them as to how we might achieve that.
QUESTION: This week, both – before the missile test, both you and the President suggested that Kim might be backing off of his missile program. Here both of you are:
“Kim Jong-un – I respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us.”
“I am pleased to see that the regime in Pyongyang has certainly demonstrated some level of restraint that we’ve not seen in the past.”
Were both of you wrong about Kim?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I don’t know that we’re wrong, Chris. I think it’s going to take some time to tell. This type of a launch again is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, so it is – clearly, they’re still messaging us as well that they are not prepared to completely back away from their position.
Having said that, we’re going to continue our peaceful pressure campaign, as I have described it, working with allies, working with China as well, to see if we can bring the regime in Pyongyang to the negotiating table with a view to begin a dialogue on a different future for the Korean Peninsula and for North Korea.
QUESTION: President Trump pledged this week to fight and win in Afghanistan, and I want to play a clip from his speech on Monday:
“Conditions on the ground, not arbitrary timetables, will guide our strategy from now on.”
Mr. Secretary, how open-ended is that commitment? How many troops is the President prepared to send to Afghanistan? How long is he prepared to keep them there?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I think the President’s been clear, Chris, that this is a dramatic shift in terms of the military strategy. We’re shifting from a time-based military strategy that had very clear troop ceiling levels to now, as he indicated, a conditions-based strategy, which means it will be dictated by conditions on the ground informed by battlefield commanders. He has also delegated significant authority to Secretary Mattis to set troop levels but also has been able to delegate further to military commanders in the field decision making to begin to turn the tide against the Taliban. I think we all recognize that for the past couple of years the Taliban has been advancing and Afghan forces have been unable to push them back. So there will be a definite change in military tactics on the ground.
Now, all of this is directed at sending a message to the Taliban that we are not going anywhere; we’re going to be here, we’re going to continue to fight for the Afghan Government, support the Afghan Security Forces. And what needs to happen is the Taliban needs to engage with the Afghan Government in a process of reconciliation and developing a way to govern the country in the future.
QUESTION: But the point I guess I’m trying to get at is, when you say that they – you’re going to be there until they get that message, is that an open-ended commitment? Are you saying whatever the President’s view is, whatever it takes?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: The President was clear that he’s not setting any arbitrary timelines, he’s not committing to any deadlines. He did in his speech though, you’ll recall, say that our patience is not unlimited, our time is not unlimited. So I think what the President has indicated —
QUESTION: He was talking about that in terms of the Afghan Government.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Correct. And I think what the President has indicated is we are not going to set arbitrary deadlines; we are going to monitor the conditions on the ground, and our decisions will be formed around the progress on the ground.
QUESTION: There’s also the question of how this administration defines victory in Afghanistan. And you and the President talked about that in somewhat different terms. Here you both are:
“Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”
“This entire effort is intended to put pressure on the Taliban to have the Taliban understand you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you.”
So Mr. Secretary, which is it? Is it obliterating al-Qaida and ISIS, or is it just getting the Taliban to the negotiating table?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, the war against ISIS is quite clear, Chris, and the President’s been clear that we will defeat ISIS. We will eliminate ISIS’ capability to organize, to raise financing, to plan, recruit new recruits to their fight to carry out terrorism acts throughout the world. That fight is progressing quite well. We are well on our way to defeating ISIS and we have now taken their caliphate from them in Iraq. Over 70 percent of the territory has been recovered. None of it has been lost back to those forces. Almost 2 million displaced Iraqi people have now returned to their homes. In the fight in Syria, we’re in the process of liberating Raqqa, which was their self-designated capital. That liberation is going quite well, and it’s our expectation that we will defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and then our effort is global to ensure that ISIS does not re-emerge elsewhere.
Now, all terrorist organizations have somewhat different objectives. So whether it’s ISIS, al-Qaida, the Taliban or others, our objective is deny any terrorist organization any territory with which they can organize, raise financing, recruit new fighters, develop techniques for carrying out terrorist acts and then deploying those. We know that if we deny them the space to do that, we protect the homeland; we also protect Americans and our allies as well.
So in the case of Afghanistan, Afghanistan has a history of being a refuge for some of the most devastating attacks carried out. As we all know, the attack of 9/11 was organized and carried out from Afghanistan. So on Afghanistan, we have to secure Afghanistan in a way that that can never occur again because there is no territory available to organizations to do so.
QUESTION: Sebastian Gorka, one of the President’s spokesmen on foreign policy, was fired on Friday just following the firing of Steve Bannon. And some folks are saying that this is, particularly on the right – further to the right, I should say – are saying that this a victory of the globalists – and they include you in that group – over the so-called America Firsters. Sebastian Gorka, in his resignation letter to the President, wrote this about the Afghanistan speech:
“The fact that those who drafted and approved the speech removed any mention of radical Islam or radical Islamic terrorism proves that a crucial element of your presidential campaign has been lost.”
Is Gorka right?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: No, I think he’s completely wrong, Chris, and I think it shows a lack of understanding of the President’s broader policy when it comes to protecting Americans at home and abroad from all acts of terrorism. Terrorism, as we’ve said, manifests itself in many types of organizations. The President has charged us to develop policies and tactics both diplomatically and militarily to attack terrorism in its many forms wherever it exists in the world and wherever it might present a threat to the homeland or to Americans anywhere. This means that we have to develop techniques that are global in their nature. All we want is to ensure that terrorists do not have the capability to organize and carry out attacks.
QUESTION: So what do you make of this division between America Firsters and so-called globalists?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I don’t see any division, Chris. I think it’s a question of tactics and how you achieve those objectives. I think the President has been clear in his speech on Afghanistan that we are not undertaking nation building. So we will be shifting our diplomatic and aid and development programs as well to coincide with the President’s view that the Afghan Government and the Afghan people must own their form of government and they must come to some reconciliation with all ethnic groups, including the Taliban, as to how they can secure their country as a peaceful country, one that does not support terrorism, does not provide safe haven for terrorists, and does not align itself with any terrorist organizations or countries that do. That’s what winning looks like.
QUESTION: Finally – and I’ve got a little over a minute left – the controversy over the racial protests in Charlottesville and the President’s response to it has become an international issue. A UN committee this week criticized the Trump administration for, quote, “its failure at the highest political level to unequivocally reject and condemn the racist violent events and demonstrations.” And here was the President in Phoenix this week talking more about the media than he was about the neo-Nazis and the Klan. Here he is:
“The only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself and the fake news.”
Does that make it harder for you to push American values around the world when some foreign leaders question the President’s values?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Chris, we express America’s values from the State Department. We represent the American people. We represent America’s values, our commitment to freedom, our commitment to equal treatment of people the world over, and that message has never changed.
QUESTION: And when the President gets into the kind of controversy he does and the UN committee responds the way it does, it seems to say they begin to doubt our – whether we’re living those values.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I don’t believe anyone doubts the American people’s values or the commitment of the American Government or the government’s agencies to advancing those values and defending those values.
QUESTION: And the President’s values?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: The President speaks for himself, Chris.
QUESTION: Are you separating yourself from that, sir?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: I’ve spoken – I’ve made my own comments as to our values as well in a speech I gave to the State Department this past week.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, thank you. Thanks for coming today. Always a pleasure to talk with you, sir.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: My pleasure, Chris.
QUESTION: Stay safe and let’s hope those folks and friends, family in Texas stay safe.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: Keep them in your prayers.
QUESTION: Yep. You bet.