coming from Jokes to Near Tears, Tillerson’s Final Brush With Diplomacy

At a refueling stop in Cape Verde on his way home coming from an exhausting visit across Africa, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson walked through howling winds late Monday night toward the airport’s V.I.P. terminal, where he pulled up a chair in addition to commenced telling jokes to the reporters who had traveled with him.

He was fired by executive tweet just hours later.

By the time Mr. Tillerson again spoke to reporters, on Tuesday afternoon in Washington, the man who had strode confidently in addition to relaxed throughout the weeklong diplomatic trip was replaced by a humbled in addition to emotional one who nearly choked up as he announced which he would certainly be handing off his powers at the stroke of midnight.

Some senior administration officials said Mr. Tillerson — who in nearly 14 months at the State Department had departed coming from President Trump’s policies on the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal in addition to diplomacy with North Korea — should have seen the idea coming.

Mr. Tillerson leaving Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Friday. His tenure was punctuated by inopportune comments, bureaucratic inertia as well as frequent in addition to public disagreements with the president.CreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters

Officials said John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, urged Mr. Tillerson late last week to cut short his trip, warning vaguely which he should be on the lookout for an unspecified Twitter post. however State Department officials insisted which had Mr. Kelly intended to relay an ominous message, Mr. Tillerson did not receive the idea.

which Mr. Tillerson missed such an important signal coming coming from the White House was emblematic of a tenure punctuated by inopportune comments, bureaucratic inertia in addition to frequent in addition to public disagreements with Mr. Trump.

Indeed, Mr. Tillerson was often uncomfortable navigating the choppy in addition to turgid waters of the Washington political scene. His favorite part of the job was meeting foreign leaders, as he did last week in what was intended to be a not bad-will tour to mend fences after Mr. Trump’s vulgar justification in January for trying to block some Africans coming from immigrating to the United States.

His first stop on the several-nation trip was Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to visit the headquarters of the African Union. At a news conference, Mr. Tillerson was confronted by local reporters about Mr. Trump’s coarse description of African countries. Gamely, Mr. Tillerson parried the questions — just as he had done This specific year in Latin America in addition to Europe, where his reception had been similarly frosty.

While in Addis Ababa, Mr. Tillerson seemed to delight in participating in a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.CreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters

He seemed far more comfortable a few hours later, at a coffee ceremony on the grounds of the American Embassy. At times distant in addition to intensely shy, Mr. Tillerson could often also be quite gracious, in addition to took obvious delight when a colorfully dressed Ethiopian woman sat over a modest fire in addition to roasted coffee beans, flowers strewn about her. He gladly accepted a modest white china cup filled with black liquid in addition to drank the idea back.

A turning point came several hours later. In a phone call around 2:30 a.m., he first learned which Mr. Trump had agreed to negotiate directly with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader — a diplomatic warming which Mr. Tillerson had offered in September to undertake, only to be publicly rebuffed by the president. The reversal began an important part of the trip for Mr. Tillerson: gaming out how such a meeting could be brought off successfully.

In repeated conversations throughout Africa with aides in addition to reporters, Mr. Tillerson said his years as chief executive of Exxon Mobil taught him valuable lessons about how to handle such delicate conversations. His comments made clear which he likely to be deeply involved, for weeks if not months, in negotiations over how the talks with Mr. Kim would certainly proceed.

Mr. Tillerson arriving on Sunday to tour the Kenya Wildlife Service in Nairobi, Kenya. He seemed to delight in animals in addition to the natural world.CreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters

coming from Ethiopia, Mr. Tillerson flew to Djibouti in addition to then Kenya, where he seemed in obvious physical distress during a news conference in Nairobi with Monica Juma, the country’s cabinet secretary for foreign affairs. His aides later said which Mr. Tillerson was suffering coming from food poisoning after eating a piece of salmon in Ethiopia, in addition to few on his staff were surprised when he canceled a planned trip to an H.I.V./AIDS clinic.

however he rallied the next day, on Sunday, to visit a Nairobi park which serves as a memorial to the more than 0 victims who were killed in a truck bombing against the American Embassy in Kenya on Aug. 7, 1998.

Fighting terror in addition to protecting the physical safety of State Department employees were among the most consistent themes which Mr. Tillerson struck throughout his time as secretary, in addition to the service in Nairobi allowed him to speak about both from the kind of somber tones which he favored.

“As all of you well know, in 1998, terrorists thought they could demoralize in addition to destroy the Kenyan in addition to American people by attacking the U.S. Embassy here in Nairobi,” Mr. Tillerson said. “Of course, they were wrong. Nearly 20 years later, we meet here to honor those who we lost in addition to those who were injured.”

Mr. Tillerson also paid homage on Sunday to the victims of the 1998 bombing against the American Embassy in Nairobi.CreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters

He also seemed to delight in animals in addition to the natural world, in addition to soon after his remarks, Mr. Tillerson headed to Nairobi National Park. A quick tour of a lab was followed by a private safari, the sort of fun which he had increasingly tried to inject into his travel schedule.

however with Washington roiled by news of the impending meeting between Mr. Trump in addition to Mr. Kim, Mr. Tillerson decided on Monday to compress his visits to Chad in addition to Nigeria into one long day, then return home.

In a rare interview with reporters aboard his government plane as the idea flew west into the sunset, Mr. Tillerson was intent on impressing just how important such meetings with world leaders are.

“This specific can be what diplomacy looks like, O.K.?” Mr. Tillerson said.

The plane landed before dawn on Tuesday at an Air Force base outside the capital. Just a few hours later, he was unceremoniously ousted by Mr. Trump in a Twitter post which showed little patience for the kind of diplomacy or détente which Mr. Tillerson had preached.

Mr. Tillerson in addition to his counterpart in Chad, Mahamat Zene Cherif, on Monday in N’Djamena, the capital. Mr. Tillerson decided to compress his visits to Chad in addition to Nigeria into one long day. CreditJonathan Ernst/Reuters

Gardiner Harris covers international diplomacy. He has previously been a White House, South Asia, public health in addition to pharmaceutical reporter. Before joining The Times in 2003, he worked for The Wall Street Journal, Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal in addition to San Luis Obispo, Calif., Tribune.