Tillerson says he and Trump act as ‘one team’ — Here are 8 big issues on which they totally disagree

Tensions between Donald Trump (L) and Rex Tillerson (R) have come to a head on several major issues

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Tensions between Donald Trump (L) and Rex Tillerson (R) have come to a head on several major issues
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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

In a press conference on Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that he and President Trump are “one team with one with mission.”

But the two have rarely seen eye to eye, and in many cases their disagreements have become public through leaked private conversations, contradictory talking points, and unfiltered tweets by the president himself.

In many cases, this has led to deep divisions between Trump and Tillerson on major domestic and international policy issues and prevented them from presenting a unified front in diplomatic circles. Here are eight of the biggest and most important issues that they diverge on:


America’s approach to North Korea

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Donald Trump, Rex Tillerson, and other members of the cabinet at a meeting with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in in the White House on June 30, 2017.
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Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

In perhaps the most direct public dispute between the two leaders, Trump disavowed Tillerson’s diplomatic approach toward North Korea on Twitter.

One day after Tillerson stated that he was trying to open the door for talks with North Korea while on a trip to China, Trump undermined his efforts, tweeting, “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”

Trump and Tillerson have repeatedly clashed over the proper way to handle North Korea’s aggressive stance toward the United States, with Trump favoring military action and Tillerson hoping to use back channels to reach a consensus with the bellicose country.

Given that North Korea now has both the capability to fire long-range missiles at the US and has access to nuclear weapons, the stakes for determining the most prudent strategy toward the country are startlingly high.


The US position on the Qatar crisis

In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Bahrain cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar over its alleged funding of terrorism, magnifying fears of even greater political instability in the Middle East.

Tillerson stated that he hoped the Middle Eastern countries could “sit down together and address these differences,” adding that the diplomatic show of force would not have “any significant impact, if any impact at all” on the “fight against terrorism in the region or globally.”

Trump, however, offered his own take.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” he tweeted. “Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!”

Trump later announced on Twitter that he and Tillerson had come together to “call on Qatar to end its funding” of terrorism, even though such a consensus had never been reached. According to one of Tillerson’s associates, the secretary of state was “absolutely enraged that the White House and State Department weren’t on the same page.”


The Iran nuclear deal

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Candidate Donald Trump speaks at the ‘Stop the Iran Deal’ rally in Washington D.C. in September 2015.
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Bao Dandan/Xinhua via Getty Images

As a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly promised to leave the Iran nuclear deal if elected.

Tillerson, however, has taken a more nuanced approach to the agreement, and has acknowledged that he and the president do not see eye-to-eye on the issue.

“He and I have differences of views on things like JCPOA, and how we should use it,” Tillerson stated, using the acronym for the official name of the Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The secretary of state was thus taken aback when he heard that Trump had made a decision regarding the deal, as the two were supposed to weigh their options in person.

“I have decided,” Trump told reporters on September 20. “I’ll let you know.”


America’s place in the Paris climate accord

On August 4, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate accord that President Barack Obama had signed with many world leaders. But the decision to do so apparently did not sit well with Tillerson.

“I was free to express my views. I took a counter view to the decision that was made,” Tillerson said, openly disagreeing with the president’s actions.

While Trump has since apparently expressed a willingness to reconsider the withdrawal under “the right conditions,” there still exists a wide gap between Trump and Tillerson’s views on America’s place in the 2015 agreement.


Afghanistan war strategy

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Donald Trump delivers a speech on his Afghanistan strategy in Fort Myers, Virginia in August 2017.
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Joshua Roberts/Reuters

As America’s war in Afghanistan drags on, Tillerson and Trump are still divided over how to approach its goals.

In an address to military personnel in Virginia in August, Trump made his position clear.

“Our troops will fight to win. We will fight to win,” he said. “From now on, victory will have a clear definition: attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”

Soon afterward, Tillerson advocated a different strategy.

“You will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you,” he said, addressing the Taliban.”So at some point, we have to come to the negotiating table and find a way to bring this to an end.”

At the heart of Trump and Tillerson’s disagreement over Afghanistan is whether the US will continue to try to eradicate the Taliban or whether it will shift to a more diplomatic regional approach. At the moment, however, no consensus has been reached between them.


Venezuela sanctions

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Tillerson (L) and Trump (R) during a press conference on potential responses to the crisis in Venezuela in Bedminster, New Jersey in August 2017.
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Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Venezuela has long been a thorn in the side of American presidents, and the country has become especially relevant now that the government of Hugo Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, has suppressed protests and failed to provide adequate relief for food shortages in the country.

Yet Trump and Tillerson have advocated very different approaches to handling the crisis – Tillerson, advised by Venezuela expert David Shannon, has come out in favor of diplomacy, while Trump stated in August that he was “not going to rule out a military option.”

While Trump eventually softened his stance and placed sanctions on the country in late August, he did so despite Tillerson’s protests.


Who to blame in Charlottesville

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson distancing himself from Trump’s comments on Charlottesville on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace on August 27, 2017.
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Fox News

All eyes were on the president following the rally by neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which Heather Heyer, a counterprotester, was killed when a white nationalist drove a car into a crowd. Attorney General Jeff Sessions labeled the attack an act of domestic terrorism.

But Trump was equivocal in his condemnation, and made the now-famous claim that “there is blame on both sides,” and that there were “very fine people” among the far-right protestors.

In an apparent effort to distance himself from Trump’s comments, Tillerson told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday that “the president speaks for himself.” An unnamed Tillerson aide later added, “Did [Trump] do the best job ever responding to Charlottesville? Nope. But that doesn’t mean America changes.”


Russian meddling in the 2016 election

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson following a news conference in Moscow, Russia, on April 12, 2017.
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REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

All four US intelligence agencies that investigated claims that Russia had used hacking and political misinformation to influence the 2016 presidential election agreed that they were true.

Trump, however, has remained unconvinced, and said, “It could have been[that] a lot of people interfered.”

Tillerson, on the other hand, is clearly concerned about the issue, and has said he has tried “to help [the Russian government] understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between the US and the American people and the Russian people.”

Russia denies it had any role in the election meddling, and the Trump administration has on several occassions attempted to broach the subject with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cabinet.

During the G20 summit in Hamburg in July, Tillerson told an associate he was “stunned” by the way Trump had approached Putin on the issue. Trump reportedly started his meeting with Putin very bluntly by saying, “I’m going to get this out of the way: Did you do this?” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Trump “said that he accepts these assertions – that’s it.”