Exxon Mobil CEO could redefine U.S. interests abroad
Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, who was meeting with Donald Trump on Tuesday to discuss becoming his secretary of state, is a seasoned deal-maker whose close ties to Vladimir Putin and other world leaders could redefine American interests abroad.
His emergence as a candidate to be the nation’s top diplomat despite having no government experience surprised senior Exxon officials—including Mr. Tillerson, according to people familiar with the matter.
Friends of the 64-year-old Texas oilman, whom they describe as a staunch conservative, said they expect he would consider the job due to his sense of patriotic duty and because he is set to retire from the company next year. The meeting was taking place Tuesday morning at Trump Tower in New York, according to a transition official.
His appointment would introduce the potential for sticky conflicts of interest because of his financial stake in Exxon, which explores for oil and gas on six of the world’s seven continents and has operations in more than 50 countries. He owns Exxon shares worth $151 million, according a recent securities filing.
Friends and associates said few U.S. citizens are closer to Mr. Putin than Mr. Tillerson, who has known Mr. Putin since he represented Exxon’s interests in Russia during the regime of Boris Yeltsin.
“He has had more interactive time with Vladimir Putin than probably any other American with the exception of Henry Kissinger,” said John Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary during the Clinton administration and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank where Mr. Tillerson is a board member.
In 2011, Mr. Tillerson struck a deal giving Exxon access to prized Arctic resources in Russia as well as allowing Russia’s state oil company, OAO Rosneft, to invest in Exxon concessions all over the world. The following year, the Kremlin bestowed the country’s Order of Friendship decoration on Mr. Tillerson.
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