On Sunday’s broadcast of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responded to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who had written a critical piece about him in the New York Times. McCain wrote in his opinion piece that Tillerson was pushing policies that were “simply transactional” and not based on American values. McCain recalled a recent message Tillerson conveyed to Department of State personnel that that "conditioning our foreign policy too heavily on values creates obstacles to advance our national interests." McCain wrote "With those words, Secretary Tillerson sent a message to oppressed people everywhere, 'Don't look to the United States for hope,' "
On Sunday, Tillerson said, The Hill noted: “America’s values of freedom, of treatment of people, human dignity, freedom of expression throughout the world, those are our values. Those are enduring values. They are part of everything we do. … But I make a distinction between values and policy. A policy has to be tailored to the individual situation. To the country. To its circumstances.” He said further, “And so the values guide our policy, but if we put our values to the front of our policies … we have no room to adapt to changing circumstances to achieve our ultimate objective.”
"I make a distinction between values and policy," Tillerson said on Meet the Press. "A policy has to be tailored to the individual situation. To the country. To its circumstances. To the broader issues that we are addressing in terms of advancing our national security interest, our national economic interest."
"And so the values guide our policy, but if we put our values in the front of our policies and say, 'This is our policy,' we have no room to adapt to changing circumstances to achieve our ultimate objective," the secretary of State said. "And I think if we are successful in achieving our ultimate diplomatic and national security objectives, we will create the conditions for the advancement of freedom in countries all over the world."
Of Tillerson’s response, Washington Times opinion writer Cheryl K. Chumley wrote, paraphrasing Tillerson, that what the top diplomat was saying, effectively, was ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, John.’ Chumley wrote, “In other words, Tillerson isn’t planning on running his State Department as a bleeding heart liberal humanitarian assistance program. Small surprise there — not. Tillerson’s actually conservative, unlike McCain.”
An important national security goal for the Trump administration, said Tillerson, is to improve relations with Russia despite perceptions of that country’s interference in last year’s election. "The president, I think, has made it clear that he feels it's important that we re-engage with Russia," he said. "The relationship with Russia, as he has described, and I have described as well, is I think at an all-time low point since the end of the Cold War, with a very low level of trust. I think it's in the interest of the American people, it's in the interest of Russia, the rest of the world, that we do something to see if we cannot improve the relationship between the two greatest nuclear powers in the world."
As to what repercussions the Russians will face, Tillerson said, "They're (repercussions) just part of that broader landscape of conversations," he said. "And I think the real impact is it serves yet again to undermine the trust between the United States and Russia. ... And so what we're exploring is how do we begin the process of restoring that trust."
Regarding last week’s discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who asserted that election-meddling was not a topic, Tillerson told show host Chuck Todd that the U.S. is “not trying to start with a clean slate” in dealings with Russia. “We’re starting with the slate we have, and all the problems that are on that slate,” he said. “We don’t dismiss any of them. We don’t give anyone a free pass on any of them.”
As to cyber attacks linked to the election, Tillerson was clear. “I think it’s been well documented -- it’s pretty well understood, the nature of that interference, here and elsewhere,” he said. “These are not new tactics on the part of the Russian government,” he added.