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>> American leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted.>> As he seeks to become President-elect Donald Trump's Secretary of State, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, taking a forceful line Wednesday on the US role in the world and talking tough on Russia.>> Russia today posses a danger.
>> But hanging over the room, questions about Tillerson's own warm ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid allegations Putin intervened in the 2016 elections to benefit Trump. Those worries only heightened by claims that Putin may be holding compromising information on Trump. Tillerson says he has no illusions about Putin, and said it was a quote, fair assumption that Putin knew about the campaign hacks.
>> We're not likely to ever be friends.>> But he added, Trump's push for engagement with Moscow is the right call. Foreign policy reporter, Yara Bayoumy.>> He also did leave some room for maneuver on what future US Russian policy would look like. He distinctly said that he would not characterize Putin as a war criminal, and that was specifically in relation to Putin's involvement in the war in Syria.
>> But on other issues, Tillerson seeming to break with Trump.>> On the hot topics on foreign policy in which Trump has taken a very strident hard-line view throughout the campaign. We did see that Tillerson gave much more measured responses, and didn't immediately just parrot what Trump has said.
So, for example, on the Iran nuclear deal, where Trump has said at one point that it should be completely dismantled and thrown out. Tillerson did say that he backed a full and conclusive review about it.>> Late in the day Tillerson raising eyebrows on China policy. Going beyond Trump's tough rhetoric, saying China should be denied access to the artificial islands it's built in the disputed South China Sea.
>> We're going to have to send China a clear signal that first, the island building stops, and second, your access to those islands is also not going to be allowed.>> Tillerson's business record creating awkward moments. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez took Tillerson to task over his opposition to sanctions imposed on Russia when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine.
>> I have never lobbied against sanctions personally. I continue to believe sanctions->> But the company you directed did.>> To my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions.>> Later, Menendez produced reports he said showed Exxon had lobbied to stop Russian sanctions.>> I don't know, all I know, Senator, is I don't recall.
>> Could you imagine->> That will ruin the climate!>> Tillerson's testimony interrupted several times by protesters angry over Exxon Mobil's environmental record.>> Senators!