New US Secretary of State calls for unity on first day
WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for unity and understanding on his first day at the State Department amid internal dissent over the policies of President Donald Trump, which have antagonised a range of allies.
Within hours of starting the job, Mr Tillerson reached out by phone to counterparts from Mexico and Canada, spoke by phone to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and met with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, officials said.
Hundreds of State Department officials greeted the former Exxon Mobil chief executive with applause as he entered the building.
"Hi, I'm the new guy," said Mr Tillerson, who was sworn in on Wednesday after the Senate confirmed him to his post despite concerns about his ties with Russia.
Mr Trump has called for closer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Tillerson addressed the dissent within the department that emerged this week in a memo signed by more than 900 officials in protest against Mr Trump's decision to suspend the US refugee programme and restrict travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
He said: "One of the great challenges and thrills for the State Department staff is deciding how to confront changing conditions in every corner of the world.
"I encourage all of you to use your natural and well-developed skills to adapt to changes here at home as well.
"I know this was a hotly-contested election and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome. Each of us is entitled to expression of our political beliefs, but we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team."
He also signalled he would impose changes to improve the functioning of the department and said the security of diplomats was a priority.
Mr Tillerson inherits a messy globe, with war in Syria and Iraq, a nuclear-armed North Korea threatening to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, and increased violence in eastern Ukraine. - REUTERS