DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson didn’t want to extend his war of words with his former boss, President Donald Trump.
It began last week in Houston during a conversation with Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
He described the President as, “A man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports.”
In response, the President called Tillerson “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell” in a tweet.
During the Dallas Citizen Council’s annual meeting luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Dallas, Tillerson told the moderator, former PBS News anchor Jim Lehrer, “That must have been an observation of my current state of affairs. I’m trying to be very lazy these days. My wife tells me I’m failing.”
When Lehrer asked Tillerson had a response, he said, “I have no response.”
Many of the nearly 1,000 people who attended clapped.
WATCH ENTIRE DISCUSSION WITH TILLERSON AND BAKER HERE
Even though President Trump fired Tillerson in March, he told the Dallas audience, “About all of President Trump’s objectives I agreed with. I think he has the right objectives, and tactics is where he and I tended to have our differences.”
One example he cited came in December of 2017 when the President announced the U.S. would move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Tillerson said, “The timing of the moving of the embassy in Jerusalem I disagreed with because at that time, we were still on a pathway of what we thought were going to be viable talks.”
Both Tillerson and James Baker, Secretary of State for former President George H.W. Bush, said they had doubts there will be peace between Israelis and Arabs.
They also commented on other international issues making headlines.
Baker, who helped President Bush oversee the end of the cold war with the former Soviet Union, said it’s important the U.S. and Russia re-establish good relations. “That’s the kind of thing we ought to get back to if we can. Our relationship with Russia today is damn near a cold war relationship. I was the last cold-war Secretary of State of the United States and I don’t see a lot of difference today in where we are and where we were in those years I was Secretary of State until 1991 when the Soviet Union imploded.”
Tillerson remembered his first meeting with Russian President Vladmir Putin in March of last year.
“He acknowledged and agreed it was in a bad place, but what wasn’t clear to me was whether he wanted it to be better or not. I think it’s unfortunate he has taken a lot of actions that have damaged this relationship. I think our response to those actions has been inadequate and that’s why he continues on the path he’s on,” said Tillerson.
Tillerson pointed to Putin’s seizing of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
“Our response to his taking of Crimea was completely inadequate, which led him to invade Eastern Ukraine, which led him to take the lead in supporting the Assad regime in the war in Syria and now back to Ukraine, he’s feeling very emboldened because there has never been an adequate response to those actions on his part,” said Tillerson.
Baker said, “I agree with that.”
Both Baker and Tillerson agreed the U.S. should stay in NATO and Baker defended President Trump’s policy. “What he wants to do is get our NATO allies to pay their fair share and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Regarding China and the trade dispute with the U.S., Baker defended President Trump, but told Lehrer he had some reservations about the tactics being used.
“You’re talking to the Secretary of State who worked very hard to get them (China) to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and you’re talking to somebody who is sorely disappointed that they haven’t lived up to the obligations they took on when they joined the WTO and I think it’s really unfortunate. I support what President Trump is trying to do, which is to bring China around to compliance with their obligations in the international trading regime. I may have some differences with respect to the tools he is using. Tariffs are tough. Tariffs can backfire on you. Now so far, tariffs have gotten their attention and this may end up being a very good result. On the other hand, it may not.”
Lehrer also asked both Baker and Tillerson about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
After a briefing with CIA Director Gina Haspel last week, some Senators said they believed that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder in Turkey.
President Trump has repeatedly defended the Saudi government.
Tillerson said, “The sanctioning of the 16 or 17 individuals is a step. I think in the eyes of most, it’s an insufficient step.”
He said he believes the Senate will send a stronger message to Saudi Arabia but said the relationship with Saudi Arabia is crucial to U.S. national security interests in the region.
Tillerson said the U.S. needs to send a clear message to the Saudis.
“This is not an intention on our part to abandon this relationship. Nor is it an intention on our part to drive you into the arms of one of our adversaries. And that’s the risk here, that we drive them into the arms of an adversary like Russia or someone else.”
Baker compared this situation to the time China killed thousands of civilians who demonstrated in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in June of 1989.
He praised how former President George H.W. Bush handled it and said President Trump should use it as a guide with Saudi Arabia.
“He had the wisdom and foresight to know that dearly violated our principles and values and that we needed to do something about it. But we needed to do it in a way that kept the relationship alive and that it didn’t just sever U.S.-China diplomatic relations. We put some rather serious sanctions on China, but we sent word privately to China we don’t intend this to mean a complete rupture of our relationship with you. Something like that needs to happen here,” said Baker.