Tags: North Korea | Russia | Trump Administration | rex tillerson | secretary of state | asia | susan thornton

WashPost: Tillerson's Choice for Secretary in Asia May Boost His Clout

Image: WashPost: Tillerson's Choice for Secretary in Asia May Boost His Clout
Susan Thornton (AP)

By    |   Monday, 25 December 2017 01:53 PM

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is ending a troubled first year in office with a diplomatic win after the White House nominated veteran Foreign Service officer Susan Thornton — the person he chose — to become assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs permanently.

Thornton has served as acting secretary since March, and Tillerson had sought for several months to have her nominated to fill the spot, reports The Washington Post.

She is considered to be one of the top Sinologists, or people specializing in the academic study of China, in the State Department, and has accompanied Tillerson on several trips to Asia, including being aboard a flight to Guam with him in August at the same time North Korea was threatening a missile launch.

Tillerson told the Post during a brief interview at the State Department Christmas party he has come to have "enormous confidence" in Thornton because of her extensive knowledge on China and North Korea.

President Donald Trump also spent some face-time with Thornton during his trip to Asia, said Tillerson, and "came away very impressed with her."

By agreeing to choose Tillerson's pick for the key State Department position, particularly as tensions increase with North Korea, could also revive morale in the State Department, while giving the secretary some additional pull at a time when rumors are swirling over whether he will keep his job in Trump's Cabinet.

Further, White House advisers, in particular, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, had blocked Tillerson's early work to get Thornton nominated, according to The Post.

Days before he left in August, Bannon told The American Prospect he was "changing out" the professionals on Asia at the State and Defense departments and he was "getting hawks in."

He mentioned Thornton by name as one veteran official he was "changing out."

Thornton joined the State Department more than 25 years ago, and has served in embassies in China, Armenia, and Kazakhstan.

"I think the world of her," said Daniel Russel, the assistant secretary for East Asia until March, told The Post, having recruited Thornton as his deputy.

"She's an immensely competent Foreign Service officer," Russell said. "When I left, I was confident there was essentially nothing Secretary Tillerson wanted from the assistant secretary that he couldn't get from Susan. It's to his credit he stuck to his guns."

The choice could also boost Tillerson's standing with the Foreign Service, with whom he has had a "very contentious relationship," said Abraham Denmark, Asia program director for the Wilson Center.

"I expect a lot of Foreign Service officers will take some comfort in the fact that Susan has been so successful," he said.

Further, the nomination could help with skepticism by some Foreign Service officers that Tillerson is willing to work with them.

A diplomat, though, said it might be too late to change perceptions.

"The fact he has been so standoffish and so uninterested in what Foreign Service officers can contribute is well-established, and irreversible," said the diplomat, under condition of anonymity. "Nobody could mistake this for an embrace by Rex Tillerson of the Foreign Service professionals. It's clearly an anomaly."

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is ending a troubled first year in office with a diplomatic victory after the White House nominated veteran Foreign Service officer Susan Thornton, the person he chose, to become assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
rex tillerson, secretary of state, asia, susan thornton
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2017-53-25
Monday, 25 December 2017 01:53 PM
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