For the second time since becoming Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson addressed his staff about the future of the agency and its work under his leadership.
Tillerson began by explaining how President Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy can be implemented in shaping U.S foreign policy, saying that negotiations with other countries may and, in some cases, should involve changing policy but American values “never change.”
“I think it’s important to also remember that guiding all of our foreign policy actions are our fundamental values: our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated,” Tillerson said. “Those are our values.”
“Those are not our policies; they’re values,” Tillerson said. “And the reason it’s important, I think, to keep that well understood is policies can change. They do change. They should change.”
“Our values never change,” Tillerson said, noting that not everyone the U.S. deals with shares our values and that our policies may reflect that if it is necessary to advance U.S. security and global stability.
“And so we really have to understand, in each country or each region of the world that we’re dealing with, what are our national security interests, what are our economic prosperity interests, and then as we can advocate and advance our values, we should – but the policies can do this; the values never change,” Tillerson said.
Covering the same event, however, the Associated Press claimed that Tillerson said that “America First” in foreign policy means that the U.S. will not insist on others sharing our values, including human rights.
“Translating ‘America First’ into diplomatic policy, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday declared the United States would no longer condition its foreign relationships on countries adopting U.S. values like human rights,” AP reported. “He spoke to a State Department eager for answers about changing priorities and a sweeping, impending overhaul.”
Tillerson told the staff that he was “honored to serve alongside” them and gave a review of what the U.S. was dealing with around the world. In particular, the Secretary of State highlighted terrorism not only in the Middle East but spreading in Africa, the effort to put pressure on North Korea through sanctions to force an end to its nuclear weapons program, and Chinese aggression in the South Sea.
As for Russia, Tillerson said, “there’s almost no trust” between the world’s two largest nuclear states.
President Donald Trump has proposed cutting the State Department budget, which has 75,000 employees globally, by 37 percent.
Much of those cuts would be in foreign aid and diplomacy, AP reported in February.
“In the current fiscal year, the State Department and USAID got $50.1 billion, a little more than 1 percent of the total federal budget,” AP reported. “Officials say a 37-percent cut would likely require reductions in staff, including security contractors at diplomatic missions abroad.”
Tillerson acknowledged that changes were coming but ended on an upbeat note.
“And I know change like this is really stressful for a lot of people,” Tillerson said. “There’s nothing easy about it, and I don’t want to diminish in any way the challenges I know this presents for individuals, it presents to families, it presents to organizations. I’m very well aware of all of that.”
“All I can offer you on the other side of that equation is an opportunity to shape the future way in which we will deliver on mission, and I can almost promise you – because I have never been through one of these exercises where it wasn’t true – that I can promise you that when this is all done, you’re going to have a much more satisfying, fulfilling career, because you’re going to feel better about what you’re doing because of the impact of what you are doing.”