Fired Tillerson says farewell to ‘a very mean-spirited town’

Outgoing US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledges applauding colleagues as he leaves the State Department in Washington D.C. for the last time. (Reuters)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Fired Tillerson says farewell to ‘a very mean-spirited town’

WASHINGTON: He came, he saw, he got fired on Twitter. And now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said farewell, with a parting plea Thursday to America’s diplomats not to let anyone violate their integrity.
Tillerson did not mention his erstwhile boss, President Donald Trump, as he spoke to several hundred State Department workers who gathered at headquarters in Foggy Bottom to watch him depart. Nor did he directly address the icy manner in which he was terminated last week after one of the shortest stints by a secretary of state in recent history.
“This can be a very mean-spirited town,” Tillerson said, eliciting laughter at first and then applause. “But you don’t have to choose to participate in that.”
When he arrived in the nation’s capital last year, Tillerson made no secret of his unwillingness to play the Washington-style games that turn governing into blood sport: one-upmanship, aggressive public posturing, surreptitious leaking and even sabotage. Weeks into his tenure, the Texas oilman famously declared he wasn’t big on press access, explaining, “I personally don’t need it.”
Others in Trump’s administration didn’t see it the same way, and Tillerson quickly found himself on the receiving end of negative reports, leaks from his rivals and mounting speculation about his future until being abruptly fired last week, four hours after returning from Africa. Often at odds with the White House, he also lost the confidence and support of many of the State Department’s 75,000 workers over his moves to cut the budget, leave key leadership positions vacant and downplay human rights and democracy-promotion as diplomatic priorities.
Still, there was sustained applause for several minutes as he departed the marbled lobby of the Harry S. Truman Building, the same lobby where the former Exxon Mobil CEO introduced himself as “the new guy” in his hallmark Texas drawl 14 months ago. A few former staffers whose tenures were even shorter than Tillerson’s also returned to see him off.
Then Tillerson set off for his home in Texas — “a more familiar climate,” Deputy Secretary John Sullivan joked, “which I know suits him well.” If the Senate agrees, he will soon be replaced by current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who frequently bumped heads with Tillerson over Iran and other issues.
“Never lose sight of your most valuable asset, the most valuable asset you possess: your personal integrity,” Tillerson says. “Only you can relinquish it or allow it to be compromised. Once you’ve done so, it is very, very hard to regain it. So guard it as the most precious thing you possess.”


More than 70 countries commit to combat terror financing

Updated 26 April 2018
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More than 70 countries commit to combat terror financing

  • Participants at an international conference in Paris agreed to “fully criminalize” terror financing
  • The two-day event was convened by French President Emmanuel Macron

PARIS: More than 70 countries committed Thursday to bolster efforts in the fight against terrorism financing associated with Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
Participants at an international conference in Paris agreed to “fully criminalize” terror financing through effective and proportionate sanctions “even in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.”
The two-day event was convened by French President Emmanuel Macron to coordinate efforts to reduce the terror threat in the long-term.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, IMF chief Christine Lagarde, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Abdel Al-Jubeir and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani were all present.
Macron, who has returned to France from a state visit to the United States, is expected to close the conference later with a call for the necessity for multilateral action.
Daniel Lewis, executive secretary of the intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force, said he is hoping that words will be put into action.
“When we have information — for example the UN list of individuals and entities financing terrorism — we need to make sure measures like asset freezing are implemented fully and quickly,” Lewis told The Associated Press.
Participants called for better information-sharing between intelligence services, law enforcement, financial businesses and the technology industry. They also agreed to improve the traceability of funds going to non-governmental organizations and charity associations.
Participants included countries that have accused each other of funding terrorism, notably in the Arabian Gulf.
France has pushed for international coordination and more transparency in financial transactions. But it has recognized how sensitive the issue is, and saw the conference as a first step for coordinated action.
The French organizers noted that Daesh military defeats on the ground have not prevented the group from pursuing its terrorist activities, along with Al-Qaeda — especially in unstable regions of Afghanistan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Yemen, Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa.
Terror groups don’t only rely on the cash economy — they’re using increasingly hard-to-track tools like prepaid cards, online wallets and crowdfunding operations.
Daesh has also invested in businesses and real estate to ensure its financing. Daesh revenues alone were estimated at $2.5 billion between 2014 and 2016, according to the French president’s office.
Though most of the attacks in Western countries do not cost a lot of money, a French official said terror groups “behave like big organizations” in that it “costs a lot to recruit, train, equip people and spread propaganda.” The official was speaking anonymously under the presidency’s customary practice.
The French counterterrorism prosecutor Francois Molins told FranceInfo radio that Daesh uses micro-financing techniques to collect a great number of small amounts of money.
Work with the financial intelligence unit helped identify 416 people in France who have donated money to Daesh over the last two years, he said.
Money, he said, went to “320 collectors mostly based in Turkey and Lebanon from whom jihadis in Iraq and Syria could receive funds.”
In recent years, the US and other Western nations have encouraged Middle Eastern nations to close off such sources.
However, allegations over extremist funding in part sparked a near-yearlong boycott of Qatar by four Arab states.
Qatar denies funding extremists, though it has faced Western criticism about being lax in enforcing rules.
Participants agreed to hold a similar conference next year in Australia.