Rex Tillerson Responds To McCain Criticism: "I Make A Distinction Between Values And Policy"


Secretary of State Rex Tillerson responds to a critical op-ed in the New York Times from Sen. John McCain.

CHUCK TODD: I want to give you a chance to respond to an op-ed that Senator John McCain wrote, where he invoked your name, sir. He said this. "In a recent address to State Department employees Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, 'Conditioning our foreign policy too heavily on values creates obstacles to advance our national interests.'"

McCain goes on to write, "With those words, Secretary Tillerson sent a message to oppressed people everywhere, 'Don't look to the United States for hope. Our values make us sympathetic to your plight, and when it's convenient we might officially express that sympathy.'" Some pretty tough words from Senator McCain. What do you say in response?

SECRETARY REX TILLERSON: Well, first, I'd say if anyone has earned the right to express their views, Senator McCain has. And I have great respect for the senator. I think the point that I was making, Chuck, in that message to State Department employees is an important one to understand.

And that's that America's values of freedom, of treatment of people, human dignity, freedom of expression throughout the world, those are our values. Those are enduring values. They are part of everything we do. And in fact they serve as the guidepost and they serve as the boundaries as we develop our foreign policy approaches and our diplomatic efforts.

But I make a distinction between values and policy. A policy has to be tailored to the individual situation. To the country. To its circumstances. To the broader issues that we are addressing in terms of advancing our national security interest, our national economic interest.

And so policies have to be adaptable. They have to change. They have to adjust to conditions. But our values can never change. Our values can never be put in a position of having to be compromised. And so the values guide our policy, but if we put our values in the front of our policies and say, "This is our policy," we have no room to adapt to changing circumstances to achieve our ultimate objective. And I think if we are successful in achieving our ultimate diplomatic and national security objectives, we will create the conditions for the advancement of freedom in countries all over the world.

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