By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump announced Exxon-Mobil Corp’s Rex Tillerson as his choice for secretary of state on Tuesday, praising the business leader as a successful international dealmaker who has led a global operation.
Tillerson’s experience in diplomacy stems from making deals with foreign countries for the world’s largest energy company, although questions have been raised about the oil executive’s relations with Russia.
“He will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world,” Trump said in a statement.
Tillerson said he shared Trump’s “vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security.”
Trump picked Tillerson, 64, after the Texan was backed by several Republican establishment figures including former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and former Defence Secretary Robert Gates, the transition official said.
Their support is seen as key to helping Tillerson get past a possibly contentious Senate confirmation battle likely to focus on his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In 2013, Putin bestowed a Russian state honour, the Order of Friendship, on Tillerson, citing his work “strengthening cooperation in the energy sector”.
Trump judged in making the pick that Tillerson could adequately address questions about his relations with Russia, an official said.
Lawmakers from both major parties have raised questions about Tillerson and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who has been mentioned as a possible No. 2 State Department official and who has voiced hawkish views on Iraq and Iran.
Separately, a source close to the transition said Trump had chosen former Texas Governor Rick Perry as his nominee for energy secretary, with an announcement expected soon. Perry met Trump on Monday at Trump Tower in New York.
Republicans and Democrats said Tillerson, who is president of Exxon Mobil Corp <XOM.N>, would be asked about his contacts with Russia, having met Putin several times. He won fresh praise from Moscow on Monday.
Senator John McCain, a leading foreign policy voice and the 2008 Republican candidate for president, told Reuters in an interview: “I have concerns. It’s very well known that he has a very close relationship with Vladimir Putin.”
There has been controversy over the role alleged Russian cyber hacking may have had on the outcome of the Nov. 8 presidential election, in which Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton.
While busily filling out his Cabinet, Trump is seeking to answer questions about how he will separate himself from his far-flung business empire before taking over the presidency on Jan. 20.
He had planned a news conference on Thursday to lay out the details but delayed it until Tuesday due to what aides said was the crush of picking people to serve in his administration.
In a series of late-night tweets on Monday, Trump said he would be leaving his business before Jan. 20 so he can focus full-time on the presidency and that he would leave his two sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, to manage it.
He did not mention his daughter, Ivanka, who has been a central player in Trump’s business affairs and who is said to be considering a move to Washington to help her father.
“No new deals will be done during my term(s) in office,” Trump said.
He said he would hold a press conference “in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!”
Trump chose Tillerson over 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who had famously criticized Trump during the party’s fight for a nominee this year. Trump called Romney to tell him he had decided to choose someone else for the job.
“It was an honour to have been considered for secretary of state of our great country,” Romney said in a Facebook posting on Monday night.
“My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening. I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Mark Heinrich)