RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump has dismissed his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. In a tweet, the president announced that he will replace Tillerson with Mike Pompeo, who has been leading the CIA for the past year. He is then elevating the deputy director of the CIA to have the top spot at that agency. We are joined now by Michele Kelemen, who covers the State Department for NPR. So Michele, we heard that Secretary Tillerson cut short his trip around the African continent. I mean, did that tip anyone else off? Did you at all suspect that this was coming down the pike this week?
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: It's so interesting because, you know, the reason why he cut his trip back, we were told, was more to get more involved in this opening with North Korea. You know, while he was away, the president had a meeting with South Korean envoys and accepted North Korea's invitation for a meeting as early as May. So the secretary kind of rushed home to get more involved in these talks. His aides gave no indication yesterday when we were talking about the plans for this week and the meetings that he had on his schedule this week. And Tillerson himself spoke to reporters last night on the plane. He'd just arrived at 5 a.m., just before 5 a.m. this morning from this trip. So he wasn't giving any indication.
MARTIN: It's fairly remarkable, the statement that has been released from the State Department itself. Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary for public diplomacy, released a statement this morning saying the secretary had every intention of staying because of critical progress made in national security. He goes on to say the secretary did not speak to the president and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve. So seemingly President Trump didn't even speak directly to Tillerson about his decision to fire him.
KELEMEN: That's what this Goldstein statement indicated. And again, you know, Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary, has been talking to us about the plans for the week ahead. You know, Tillerson had scheduled on Thursday, he was supposed to go before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to talk about the budget. He had meetings scheduled on Friday with the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers...
MARTIN: So they were moving forward at least publicly. But these are two men, the president and Rex Tillerson, who never jelled, who never saw eye-to-eye on a lot of issues.
KELEMEN: That's right. And you'll remember there was a lot of rumor last year that he was on the verge of quitting. He said that he would stay. He kind of gave this reasoning of being patriotic and serving the country, staying. And, you know, his supporters, including the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker, described him as someone who's kind of keeping the country away from chaos.
MARTIN: What's Mike Pompeo going to be like at the State Department?
KELEMEN: Well, I mean, you know, he has a good relationship with President Trump, and that's one thing that could help the people here at Foggy Bottom, at least if, you know, the things that they're working on, their advice, if they want the president to hear it, maybe hearing it from Pompeo is better than hearing it from Tillerson, who never seemed to jell. But, you know, he also has much more hawkish views, especially on things like Iran, and that's going to be a deadline coming up, as well, what to do with the Iran nuclear deal.
MARTIN: All right. NPR's Michele Kelemen. Michele, stay with us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.