Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state narrowly won over the senate’s foreign relations committee in a vote on Monday.
Rex Tillerson, who resigned his role at the head of Exxon Mobil last month, will lead the US’ foreign relations if he passes a vote of the full senate. That is likely to occur next week, according to Reuters.
The committee vote split along party lines, 11 to 10 in favour of the Republicans. The Republicans also hold a majority in the senate.
The committee’s top Democrat, senator Ben Cardin, told CNN’s New Day: “He raised me many questions as to whether his business interests would compromise his ability to speak out for US leadership on human rights and good governance, particularly as it relates to Russia.”
Republican Marco Rubio expressed similar concerns in a Facebook post, but backed Tillerson anyway, saying the president was entitled to “significant deference” in his cabinet picks.
— CNN (@CNN) January 23, 2017
While at Exxon, Tillerson pursued oil exploration in many of the world’s most diplomatically tense regions and has been scrutinised for his cosy relationship with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin.
Last week a former Russian energy minister told Climate Home that he expected Tillerson’s state department to ease sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded the Crimea in 2014. That would open up opportunities for Exxon to continue stalled projects in the Russian Arctic.
Tillerson’s state department will also inherit the power to influence and possibly strike out a court case that Exxon fought against for 16 years. A group of 14 Indonesian villagers are suing the company for human rights abuses – including murder, torture and rape – allegedly committed by soldiers on the company payroll during the late 1990s.
Tillerson would also take control of the US’ climate diplomacy. President Trump has indicated that he wants to withdraw from the UN climate process, but during his senate hearing Tillerson said it was his preference that the US maintained a place “at the table” in order to defend the US’ economic interests.
Paula Caballero from the World Resources Institute said this response was “insufficient”.
“As Secretary of State, Tillerson will be confronted by overwhelming support from America’s most steadfast allies behind the historic Paris Agreement,” she said.
“Whether at the G7 or G20, Arctic Council or United Nations, climate change has become a core issue for international relations. The United States must do more than keep a ‘seat at the table’, it must continue to be a constructive player. This a key opportunity for the Trump administration to build trust and demonstrate global leadership.”