Trump cites differences over Iran deal for Tillerson's firing

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media from the South Lawn of the White House (AFP)

US President Donald Trump cited his disagreements with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on the Iranian nuclear deal, as he explained his decision to replace him with CIA director Mike Pompeo.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” he said speaking from the White House lawn in Washington. “We got along actually quite well but we disagreed on things.

“When you look at the Iran deal, I thought it was terrible, he thought it was okay. I wanted to either break it or do something. He felt a little differently. So we were not really thinking the same.”

Conversely, he said that he and Pompeo had “a similar thought process” on the issue.

A spokesperson for Tillerson, who reportedly found out about the move on Twitter, said that he had been “grateful” to serve in the White House, but “did not speak to the president” before the firing and was “unaware” of the reasons for his sacking.

Reports of tensions between Tillerson and Trump had been on-going for some time, with the administration’s chief diplomat having reportedly branded the latter a “moron” during a 2017 Pentagon meeting.

The latest apparent infraction occured on Monday when Tillerson backed the UK’s assertion that Russia was behind the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergi Skripal, in contrast to Trump’s own comments on the issue which did not apportion blame.

Analysts are now concerned that the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has long branded the “worst deal ever” could finally be scrapped. While Tillerson was a critic of the deal, he had previously stated the need for a “review” of the deal rather than a full ripping up as Trump wanted.

In place of Pompeo, Trump announced the appointment of Gina Haspel, the first woman to hold the position of CIA director.

Haspel, who joined the CIA in 1985, was previously involved in the now-banned torture programme in 2002. According to the New York Times, she “oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand.”

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