Tillerson Must Sell Congress on Pragmatic Approach to US-Russia Relations

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ExxonMobil president Rex Tillerson arrives at Russia's Energy Ministry - Sputnik International
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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson supports President Donald Trump’s agenda of improved relations with Russia, but he will need ways to overcome opposition in the Congress, analysts told Sputnik.

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, smiles during his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017 - Sputnik International
Ex-Diplomat: Congress to Scrutinize Tillerson Efforts to 'Make Deal' With Russia
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Tillerson recognizes he must convince members of Congress who sit on both sides of the political aisle to accept his practical approach to working with Russia.

“Secretary Tillerson will certainly support President [Donald] Trump’s agenda of improved relations with Russia,” Australian foreign policy analyst Crispin Rovere told Sputnik. “However, Tillerson was confirmed by Congress despite his perceived Russia connections, not because of them.”

Tillerson knows that Trump still faces enormous domestic opposition to his pragmatic approach to Russia, Rovere, author of “The Trump Phenomenon,” pointed out.

“As CEO of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson advocated against economic sanctions being imposed on Russia. As Secretary of State, he will need to find ways to pacify Congress,” Rovere said.

At present, Congress fears that the president will seek to have sanctions lifted without corresponding responsiveness from Moscow, Rovere explained.

“It will be a diplomatic test for this administration to overcome this domestic opposition. There are certain things the President can do on his own, but at some point he’ll need to bring Congress with him if any rapprochement is going to be lasting,” he said.

Vladimir Putin and Rex Tillerson - Sputnik International
Tillerson Likely to Move Carefully in Building Stronger Ties With Russia
Tillerson’s agenda would include improving relations with Russia, including cooperation in Syria against Daesh, advancing nuclear arms control, lessening tensions in Ukraine and lifting economic sanctions, Rovere explained.

However, Tillerson would face resistance to his policies from among the US intelligence community and their hawkish allies in Congress including Republican senators and failed presidential candidates John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Rovere added.

University of Copenhagen Professor of History Matthew Dal Santo told Sputnik that Tillerson would be able to prevail over the enemies of restored US-Russian good relations.

“I think there's generally a sense of optimism among Russia watchers of a realist bent regarding Tillerson's appointment. He knows Russia well, as well as its president, and from what he has said in public will take a pragmatic rather than ideological approach to relations,” he explained.

Da Santo agreed that Tillerson would have to move cautiously at first.

“I think… in the long term, Tillerson favors the lifting of sanctions and will look for ways to allow that to start happening. It won't happen overnight and I think the Kremlin understands that….This will take time and preparation,” he said.

Dal Santo suggested that Tillerson would first take small steps such as holding a confidence-building meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

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