Trump, top diplomat pick differ on nukes, TPP
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WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he is not against the recently negotiated Asia-Pacific free-trade deal, putting him at odds with the president-elect who has vowed to scrap it.
The former ExxonMobil head also assured senators that the United States would continue striving for nuclear nonproliferation, a stance in conflict with some of the president-elect's pronouncements.
"I do not oppose TPP," said Tillerson, referring to the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by 12 nations including the US and Japan, which would encompass some 40 percent of the global economy.
"I share some of (Trump's) views regarding whether the agreement that was negotiated serves all of America's interests best," he added during his lengthy confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
His brief comments on trade break with the position of his would-be boss. On the campaign trail last year Trump repeatedly vowed to tear up the TPP and other trade pacts on his first day in office on January 20.
In November, two weeks after his victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump released a video in which he reiterated his pledge.
On day one, Trump said, "I am going to issue our notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country."
He said he would replace it with "fair bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back onto American shores."
Japan's parliament ratified the TPP -- which does not include China -- in December, but it was largely viewed as an empty gesture owing to Trump's opposition.
The likely demise of the TPP was welcomed in November by state media in China, where the deal had been criticized as a naked attempt to boost US influence in the region and contain the Asian giant.
Also during his presidential campaign, Trump raised the possibility of Japan and South Korea -- both key US allies -- arming themselves with nuclear weapons.
And late last year, the president-elect revived the specter of a nuclear arms race, saying that the United States would respond in kind if any other nuclear power expanded its arsenal.
Yet Tillerson said that "one of the vital roles" for the State Department is "the pursuit of nuclear nonproliferation."
"We just simply cannot back away from our commitment to see a reduction in the number of these weapons on the planet," said Tillerson, who was named by Trump late last year to succeed Secretary of State John Kerry.
As the Republican-controlled Senate weighs the confirmation of Trump's cabinet nominees, most are expected to breeze through relatively unscathed.
But the nominees have provided both new clarity -- and sometimes a degree of confusion -- as to the precise policies Trump aims to pursue.
While President Barack Obama has spent much of his time in office preaching the virtues of "a world without nuclear weapons," Trump has said he is ready, if necessary, to end the decades-old pursuit by both Democratic and Republican administrations to reduce the numbers and strategic importance of nuclear weaponry.
Trump said last month in remarks reported by MSNBC that if it came to it, "Let it be an arms race ... we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."
He said the United States should "greatly strengthen and reinforce its nuclear capability."
But when Tillerson was asked about Trump's notion that countries such as Japan or South Korea should perhaps possess nuclear weapons, he told senators "I do not agree."
"I don't think anyone advocates for more nuclear weapons on the planet," he said.
The US has an arsenal of some 7,000 nuclear warheads, a few hundred less than Russia possesses.
The Pentagon plans to modernize the three legs of its nuclear triad -- intercontinental missiles, submarine-launched missiles and strategic bombers -- at an estimated cost of $1 trillion over 30 years.