newstream

Americas

Who's the moron? Trump challenges Tillerson to IQ test

Who's the moron? Trump challenges Tillerson to IQ test
United States President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. REUTERS file photo.

Who's the moron? Trump challenges Tillerson to IQ test

WASHINGTON – United States President Donald Trump's feud with top diplomat Rex Tillerson burst back into the open Tuesday (Oct 10), after the US president joked that he and his Secretary of State should compare IQ scores.

Having loudly dismissed reports that Mr Tillerson had once called him a "moron," Mr Trump refused to let the controversy go, renewing questions about Mr Tillerson's future.

In an interview with Forbes magazine, Mr Trump was asked about last week's report that Mr Tillerson had insulted him behind his back –  a story that both had already denied.

"I think it's fake news," Mr Trump said, before allowing: "But if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win."

The interview was published hours before the two men met in the White House for talks on Iran, Turkey and North Korea and then lunch with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Ahead of the sit-down, Mr Trump had insisted he still had confidence in the secretary of state, saying: "I did not undercut anybody. I don't believe in undercutting people."

But White House insiders say that Mr Tillerson's refusal to personally deny an NBC News report that he labelled Mr Trump a "moron" after a July meeting had only deepened the rift.

PRESIDENT “ALLOWED TO JOKE”

After the meetings, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted there was no rift between the men – and that Mr Trump does not think Mr Tillerson is stupid.

"The President certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent. He made a joke, nothing more than that," Ms Sanders insisted.

"He has full confidence in the secretary of state. They had a great visit earlier today. And they are working hand in hand to move the president's agenda forward."

Over at the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert declared when asked that Mr Tillerson's IQ was "high" but insisted that the top diplomat he had not been offended.

"Speaking with some of our folks who were over there with the president, with the secretary and the president. The meetings were described as positive," Ms Nauert said.

"I think the president is allowed to joke. He's allowed to have a sense of humor … the secretary is more than fine with that," she said of Mr Trump's remarks about IQ.

Since the alleged insult was reported, White House chief of staff John Kelly has been struggling to keep a lid on the crisis, and on renewed rumors of Mr Tillerson's departure.

But that effort that has been consistently thwarted by Mr Trump's tweets and barbed remarks.

Last week, before the report of the insult was published, Mr Trump took to Twitter to accuse the former ExxonMobil CEO of "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korea.

The rebuke revived rumors that Mr Tillerson is unhappy at his post, but he insists he has no intention of resigning.

CRUCIAL TIME

In Washington, Mr Tillerson, along with Mr Mattis, Mr Kelly and chairman of the joint chiefs Joseph Dunford are increasingly seen as a buffer against Mr Trump's impulses.

Mr Kelly has worked to control the flow of information across Mr Trump's desk and imposed a decision-making structure that was absent in the early days of the administration.

But for many in Washington, even former supporters from the president's own party, he has not yet been successful.

"The White House has become an adult day care center," Senator Bob Corker declared at the weekend, an astonishing public rebuke from a Republican who campaigned for Mr Trump and chairs the Senate foreign relations committee.

Mr Tillerson's departure would be a major blow to those hoping to temper Mr Trump and prevent the slide towards what Mr Corker described as "the path to World War III."

And it could not come at a more sensitive time diplomatically.

Mr Trump is poised to confront Iran by questioning a major nuclear deal later this week and appears set on stepping up his threats against nuclear-armed North Korea.

Mr Tillerson will also play a major role in preparing Mr Trump's monster trip to Asia next month, that will take in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. AFP