Trump’s secretary of State nominee says fighting ‘radical Islam’ top priority

Including Muslim Brother­hood in this list suggests that Tiller­son would advocate for designating that group a terrorist organisation.

Rex Tillerson testifying during Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing

2017/01/15 Issue: 89 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

Washington - Rex Tillerson, US Pres­ident-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the next secretary of State, said that fighting “radical Islam” would be the State Depart­ment’s “foremost priority in the Middle East” under his leadership.

Tillerson was responding to in­tense questioning January 11th by members of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. The Senate must confirm Trump’s cabinet-lev­el nominees before they take office.

Tillerson, the former chief execu­tive officer of ExxonMobil, told the senators that “we need to be hon­est about radical Islam… and mur­derous acts committed in its name against America and our friends”. He said radical Islam “poses a grave risk to the stability of nations and the well-being of their citizens”.

“Powerful digital media plat­forms now allow ISIS, al-Qaeda and other terror groups to spread a poisonous ideology that runs com­pletely counter to the values of the American people and all people around the world who value human life,” Tillerson said.

The key to defeating radical Is­lam, he said, was to defeat the Is­lamic State (ISIS). “The demise of ISIS,” Tillerson said, “would also allow us to increase our attention on other agents of radical Islam like al-Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood and certain elements within Iran”.

Including the Muslim Brother­hood in this list suggests that Tiller­son would advocate for designating that group a terrorist organisation, something that the Obama admin­istration resisted doing despite ap­peals from many in Congress.

Tillerson also said that under his leadership the State Depart­ment would “do its part in sup­porting Muslims around the world who reject radical Islam in all its forms”. He did not specify whether he meant bolstering governments such as that of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi or providing economic assis­tance to address underlying social issues.

The 64-year-old Tillerson, who has never served in government, faced aggressive questioning over his opinions towards Russia and President Vladimir Putin. Despite prodding by Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, Tillerson refused to label Putin a “war criminal” because of Russia’s role in the Syrian conflict, which by many accounts included attacks on civilian targets in Aleppo and elsewhere. “Those are very se­rious charges to make and I’d want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion,” Tillerson said.

In a break with what had been a major theme of Trump’s election campaign, Tillerson said he would not support a ban on Muslims en­tering the United States, saying he opposed “a blanket-type rejection of any particular group of people”. He also declared his opposition to a nationwide registry of Muslims in the United States, another Trump campaign pledge, questioning “how such an approach would even be constructed”.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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