Rex Tillerson addresses State Department dissent over Trump policies on first day

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WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for unity and understanding on his first day at the State Department amid internal dissent over policies of President Donald Trump, which have also antagonized a range of allies.

Within hours of starting the job, Tillerson reached out by phone to counterparts from Mexico and Canada, spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and met with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, department officials said.

Hundreds of State Department officials greeted the former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive with applause as he entered the building. Louder cheers broke out when Tillerson thanked acting Secretary of State Tom Shannon for standing in after the departure of John Kerry.

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Exxon Mobil Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson speaks at a news conference following the Exxon Mobil annual shareholders meeting in Dallas, Texas May 30, 2007. Tillerson told reporters on Wednesday that the construction of the Mackenzie pipeline project in Canada was not viable at current cost levels.

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson look on at a signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi August 30, 2011. Exxon and Russia's Rosneft signed a deal on Tuesday to develop oil and gas reserves in the Russian Arctic, opening up one of the last unconquered drilling frontiers to the global industry No.1.

(REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool)

Executives from six major oil companies are sworn in to testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the "Consolidation in the Oil and Gas Industry: Raising Prices?" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 14, 2006. The executives are (L-R) Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil Corp., James Mulva, Chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, David O'Reilly, Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp., Bill Klesse, CEO of Valero Energy Corp., John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil Company and Ross Pillari, President and CEO of BP America Inc.

(Jason Reed / Reuters)

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo)

Chairman, President and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation Rex Tillerson watches a tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club course in Pebble Beach, California, February 6, 2014.

(REUTERS/Michael Fiala)

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil; John Watson, chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp.; James Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips; Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co.; and Lamar McKay, president and chairman of BP America Inc.; are sworn in during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on their safety practices as oil continues to leak into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig - operated by BP - exploded last month.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo)

WASHINGTON, DC - May 12: James Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips; and Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp.; during the Senate Finance hearing on oil and gas tax incentives.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation Rex W. Tillerson and Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg attends the United Nations Foundation's global leadership dinner at The Pierre Hotel on November 8, 2011 in New York City.

(Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., left, speaks with Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates Inc., during the 2015 IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. CERAWeek 2015, in its 34th year, will provide new insights and critically-important dialogue with decision-makers in the oil and gas, electric power, coal, renewables, and nuclear sectors from around the world.

(Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Renda St. Clair and Rex Tillerson attend the reopening celebration at Ford's Theatre on February 11, 2009 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Abby Brack/Getty Images)

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, listens during a meeting at the Department of the Interior September 22, 2010 in Washington, DC. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar hosted Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Gulf Oil Spill National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen (Ret.), representatives from the private sector and others to discus strengthening the containment abilities to deep water oil and gas well blowouts like the recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

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"Hi, I'm the new guy," said Tillerson, who was sworn in on Wednesday after the Senate confirmed him to his post despite concerns about his ties with Russia. Trump has called for closer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In remarks that did not touch on foreign policy specifics, Tillerson addressed the dissent within the department that emerged this week in a memo signed by more than 900 officials in protest against Trump's decision to suspend the U.S. refugee program and restrict travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"One of the great challenges and thrills for the State Department staff is deciding how to confront changing conditions in every corner of the world," said Tillerson, "I encourage all of you to use your natural and well-developed skills to adapt to changes here at home as well.

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"I know this was a hotly contested election and we do not all feel the same way about the outcome," said Tillerson.

"Each of us is entitled to expression of our political beliefs, but we cannot let our personal convictions overwhelm our ability to work as one team."

He also signaled he would impose changes to improve the functioning of the department and said the security of diplomats was a priority.

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There was no readout after his meeting with Gabriel at the State Department, although discussions were likely focused on the NATO alliance, the future of the Iran nuclear agreement and trade.

His separate phone calls with foreign ministers from Canada and Mexico coincided with Trump saying on Thursday he wanted early talks on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he wants to renegotiate or repeal.

"I know him and we are very excited having the opportunity to work with him," Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said in an interview on CNN on Thursday evening, adding that he would meet Tillerson shortly.

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The two met a couple of times when Videgaray was finance minister and Tillerson at Exxon, he said.

Tillerson also spoke by phone with Netanyahu, the State Department said in a statement. It did not say whether they discussed a White House statement that said Israeli settlements in occupied territories may not be helpful in achieving peace with Palestinians, adopting a more measured tone than its previous pro-Israel announcements.

"In all of his conversations, Secretary Tillerson stressed America's steadfast commitment to its key allies and partners as it works to protect the interests and safety of the American people," acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Tillerson inherits a messy globe, with war in Syria and Iraq, nuclear-armed North Korea threatening to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile, and increased violence in eastern Ukraine.

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RUSSIA'S GROWING INFLUENCE: Russian leader Vladimir Putin looks to position his nation as an alternate ally to countries such as the Philippines and Turkey who have been traditionally allied with the U.S.. Putin's Russia, accused of influencing the U.S. presidential election, could seek to cement their influence by providing support to other populists facing elections this year. REUTERS/Yuri Kochetkov/Pool

Source: Reuters 

SYRIA'S SHAKY PEACE: A truce deal brokered by Russia and Turkey faces challenges as clashes between rebel and government forces continue. A lasting peace deal could prove elusive as the large number of warring factions seek to protect their own interests and territories. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi

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ISIS-INSPIRED ATTACKS CONTINUE: Following the highly orchestrated Islamic State attacks on Paris and Brussels, the world has witnessed a spate of attacks by individuals who appear to be inspired by the militant group, rather than in direct contact with them. 2017 looks set to see a continuation of these types of attacks as the year began with a mass shooting at a Turkish nightclub where the motive still remains unclear. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard 

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THE TRUMP BARGAIN: As President Trump takes office, the white working class that propelled him to the White House will be watching closely to see if he can bring back jobs as promised throughout the campaign. It remains to be seen if the divisive politics that characterized the bitter campaign will continue as Trump takes over the helm of a divided nation. REUTERS/Mike Segar

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MERKEL'S POLITICAL FUTURE IN JEOPARDY: German Chancellor Angela Merkel's support for accepting refugees risks costing her re-election when Germans go to the polls later in 2017. Following the Berlin Christmas market attack and in the run-up to the election, Merkel will continue to face demands to take a much tougher line on immigration and security. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

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VENEZUELA CRISIS DEEPENS: The oil-rich but cash-strapped nation faces a dire economic panorama of worsening food and medicine shortages as its socialist system continues to unravel. With few signs of financial relief on the horizon, President Nicolas Maduro faces escalating street protests as patience wears thin even among his supporters. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

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RACE RELATIONS IN FOCUS: With the retrial of former police officer Michael Slager in the shooting death of Walter Scott slated for March, the Black Lives matter movement and other groups protesting racial injustice will be watching for a verdict. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

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MIGRANTS ON THE MEDITERRANEAN: As temperatures rise, the number of migrants making the dangerous crossing to Europe could increase again despite a record number of deaths of those traversing the Mediterranean in 2016. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

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Over the past 48 hours, more foreign policy challenges piled up as tensions erupted between the United States and ally Australia over an existing refugee swap, which Trump called a "dumb deal."

Strains with Iran also increased after the White House said it was putting Tehran on notice for test-firing a ballistic missile and the new administration moved to impose sanctions on several Iranian entities on Friday, according to sources familiar with the matter. (Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Christine Murray in Mexico City; Editing by Grant McCool, Peter Cooney and Nick Macfie)

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