At his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson took a harsher tone than President-elect Donald Trump saying Russia “poses a danger” and that China should be denied access to islands it has built in the contested South China Sea. Justin Mitchell reports.
SOUNDBITE: TILLERSON American leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted. As he seeks to become President-elect Donald Trump's Secretary of State...former Exxon-Mobil C-E-O Rex Tillerson taking a forceful line Wednesday on the U.S. role in the world...and talking tough on Russia. SOUNDBITE: TILLERSON Russia today poses a danger... But hanging over the room: questions about Tillerson's own warm ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid allegations Putin intervened in the 2016 elections to benefit Trump...those worries only heightened by claims that Putin may be holding compromising information on him. Tillerson said he has no illusions about Putin, and said it was a "fair assumption" that Putin knew about the campaign hacks... UPSOUND: TILLERSON We're not likely to ever be friends. but he added Trump's push for engagement with Moscow is the right call… Foreign policy reporter Yara Bayoumy. SOUNDBITE: YARA He also did leave some room for maneuver on what future US-Russian policy would look like, he very distinctly said that he would not characterize Russian president Vladimir Putin as a war criminal, and that was specifically in relation to Putin's involvement in the war in Syria But on other issues, Tillerson seeming to break with Trump…for example…refusing to disavow an international climate change agreement Trump openly mocked in the campaign. SOUNDBITE: YARA On the hot topics on foreign policy on which Trump has taken a very strident hardline view throughout the campaign we did see that Tillerson gave much more measured responses and didn't just immediately parrot what trump has said. So for example on the Iran nuclear deal where trump has said at one point that it should be completely dismantled and thrown out, Tillerson did say that he backed a full and conclusive review of that. But…late in the day Tillerson raising eyebrows on China policy - going beyond Trump' tough rhetoric …saying China should be DENIED access to the artificial islands its built in the disputed South China Sea. Tillerson's business record creating awkward moments…New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez took Tillerson to task over his opposition to sanctions imposed on Russia when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine…which Tillerson struggled to answer SOUNDBITE: TILLERSON AND MENENDEZ TILLERSON:I never personally lobbied against sanctions.. MENENDEZ: but the company Exxon did… TILLERSON: Exxon never lobbied against sanctions … to my knowledge Later, Menendez produced reports he said showed Exxon had lobbied to stop Russian sanctions…… UPSOUND: TILLERSON All I know is that I don't recall UPSOUND: PROTESTER Tillerson's testimony interrupted several times by protesters angry over Exxon Mobil's environmental record.