Tillerson: Trump's overseas trip signals 'America returning to the scene'

Tillerson: Trump's overseas trip signals 'America returning to the scene'
© Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonOvernight Regulation: Trump adviser affirms plans to leave climate deal | FDA to study new cigarette warning labels | DOJ investigating Equifax stock sales Top US security official targeted in Cuba Embassy covert attacks: report Trump adviser tells foreign officials no change on Paris climate deal MORE sought on Thursday to cast President Trump's first trip abroad since entering office as a signal of the U.S. reengaging globally after a period of "neglect."

"What I would tell you is there is a great sense of expectation and I think a great welcomeness of America returning to the scene," Tillerson said at a news conference.

"Many of the leaders, particularly in the part of the world we’ll be traveling — the Middle East, Central Asia and even parts of Africa – are ready for a period of what they view to have been neglect to outright dismissal of their concerns. They’re ready for reengagement with America."

ADVERTISEMENT

Tillerson's remarks came a day before Trump departs on a nine-day trip to five countries — his first excursion abroad as president, in which he is set to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia, Italy, the Vatican and Belgium.

But a New York Times report on Wednesday painted Trump as far more reluctant to travel abroad than Tillerson's comments suggested. The president reportedly sought to shorten the trip to five days, and he is said to be loath to travel far from his personal residences.

What's more, the trip comes as Trump faces mounting controversies and setbacks in Washington that began last week with his abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Since then, the White House has scrambled to respond to reports that the president may have divulged highly classified intelligence to Russian officials and pushed Comey in February to shut down the FBI's investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Tillerson on Thursday dismissed concerns that Trump could face questions or challenges abroad about his administration's domestic troubles and cast doubt on whether the international community was even aware of the controversies.

"I think the people in the rest of the world ... do not have the time to pay attention to what’s happening domestically here," he said. "They are more concerned about what they see happening in the relationship with their country and what we are bringing to address these very serious challenges that are affecting all of us."

The trip also offers Trump his first opportunity to explain to an international audience his long-touted "America first" approach to foreign policy and what it could mean for U.S. engagement abroad. Trump has, in the past, been wary of U.S. foreign intervention and has often assailed international organizations and trade agreements.

But Tillerson characterized the upcoming tour as an effort by the president to promote unity and cooperation.

"I think the importance of this trip and President Trump’s leadership around bringing people the world over to understand we are in this together," he said. "This is not a battle about religions. This is not a battle about cultures. This is a battle about good and evil."