Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he has never considered resigning

WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday he had never considered resigning and that he was committed to Donald Trump's agenda but declined to directly address whether he had referred to the president as a "moron" as NBC News has reported.

The top U.S. diplomat, whose tenure has been dogged with rumors about unhappiness with Trump's policies and rhetoric, said he was committed to Trump's agenda as much today as he was when he first accepted the offer to serve as secretary of state.

SEE ALSO: Report: Tillerson described Trump as a 'moron,' was on the verge of resignation

Tillerson spoke after NBC reported that Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials had intervened to persuade him not to resign during the summer as tensions rose between Trump and Tillerson.

"The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state because I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said in a hastily prepared news conference at the State Department. "I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives."

"My commitment to the success of our president and our country is as strong as it was the day I accepted his offer to serve as secretary of state," Tillerson said.

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Rex Tillerson through his career

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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In a session with Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials at the Pentagon, Tillerson openly criticized the president and referred to him as a "moron," NBC reported, citing three officials familiar with the incident.

Tillerson, who said he had not spoken to Trump on Wednesday, sidestepped the issue when taking questions after his statement:

"I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that," he said .".. This is what I don't understand about Washington ... I'm not from this place, but the places I come from we don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense. And it is intended to do nothing but divide people, and I'm just not going to be part of this effort to divide this administration."

Tillerson also said of Trump: "He's smart. He demands results."

Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson over the weekend when the president tweeted that he told him that he was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson offered a vigorous defense of both the U.S. president and his foreign policy even though the White House and State Department have at times appeared to differ on policy.

"President Trump's foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country. We're finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories," Tillerson said.

In a tweet, Trump called on NBC to apologize for its story, saying both Tillerson and Pence had refuted it. Pence, in a statement, said he never discussed with Tillerson the prospect of the secretary of state's resignation.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has played down any tensions between Trump and Tillerson over their apparent split, most recently over North Korea.

Tillerson's insistence that he completely supports Trump's agenda runs counter to what some administration officials have privately described as him chafing against some of the president's pronouncements and off-the-cuff decisions, sometimes contrary to advice from senior advisers.

“... this was a stunning and unprecedented statement by a secretary of state in response to a news report about his comments about the president,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator for both Republican and Democratic administrations and now an analyst at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington.

One U.S. official said the view of many within the administration was that despite Tillerson’s denial of having contemplated resignation, “it’s only a matter of time” before he does consider it.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no reason to believe that Trump would give up his habit of publicly contradicting Tillerson and that each time speculation on his future would resurface.

Tillerson has often found himself at odds with the president on a range of issues, according to current and former U.S. officials and media reports.

He has taken a more hawkish view on Russia and tried to mediate a dispute among key U.S. Mideast allies after four Arab nations boycotted Qatar over its alleged extremist ties.

Trump undercut Tillerson's mediation effort, calling Qatar "a funder of terrorism at a very high level." Trump has since adopted a stance closer to the State Department's on this issue. 

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