U.S. President Donald Trump says he has dismissed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and is nominating Mike Pompeo, the current head of the CIA, to replace him as the top U.S. diplomat.
Deputy CIA chief Gina Haspel will head the agency, becoming the first woman to do so, Trump said in a tweet on March 13.
Trump announced the decision after Tillerson, who became secretary of state on February 1, 2017, returned from a shortened trip to Africa.
Trump told reporters outside the White House that he made the decision "by myself" and said Tillerson will be "much happier now." He said that he and Tillerson had different mindsets.
A senior White House official said that Trump wanted to have his new team in place before his planned talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and ongoing trade negotiations.
The moves follow months of speculation that Tillerson, a former head of the oil company ExxonMobil, could be on his way out as the top U.S. diplomat.
They came amid persistent tension with Russia over issues including its interference in Ukraine, its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and British allegations that it was "most likely" behind the poisoning of a former spy with a highly toxic nerve agent.
The senior White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Trump works well with Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas seen as a loyalist within the administration.
As CIA director, Pompeo “has earned the praise of members in both parties by strengthening our intelligence gathering, modernizing our defensive and offensive capabilities, and building close ties with our friends and allies in the international intelligence community,” Trump said in a statement distributed by the White House.
Pompeo “will continue our program of restoring Americas standing in the world, strengthening our alliances, confronting our adversaries, and seeking the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” he added.
Pompeo said that if confirmed as secretary of state by U.S. lawmakers, “I look forward to representing him and the American people to the rest of the world to further America's prosperity.”
Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, has been chief of station at agency outposts abroad and has held several senior leadership positions including deputy director of the National Clandestine Service and deputy director of the National Clandestine Service for Foreign Intelligence and Covert Action.
She briefly ran a secret CIA prison in Thailand where accused terrorists Abu Zubayadah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri were waterboarded in 2002,The Associated Press reported, citing current and former U.S. intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Watch President Trump speak to reporters for the first time since the announcement:
With reporting by The Washington Post and Reuters AP,AFP and Reuters