WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted Wednesday that he is not planning to quit, refuting weeks of reports of policy disputes and personal clashes with the White House.
"I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said at an extraordinary and hastily called press conference at the State Department.
Tillerson did not directly respond to an NBC News report earlier Wednesday that he had referred to President Donald Trump as a "moron."
"I'm not going to deal with petty points like that," Tillerson said, adding that he does not understand what he called a Washington impulse to "sow dissension" and undermine the administration's work.
He called Trump "smart" and committed to American security and the accountability of those around him.
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Trump responded quickly on Twitter after Tillerson's appearance: "The @NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and @VP Pence. It is #FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!"
Tillerson's public remarks came after months of disagreements between Tillerson and the White House over staffing and administrative matters at the State Department and a disconnect over what Trump saw as Tillerson's conventional approach to policy matters.
Over the weekend, President Trump contradicted Tillerson on diplomatic relations with North Korea and its leader. Trump tweeted that the secretary of state was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man" - his nickname for North Korea's Kim Jong Un.
Tillerson's growing isolation from the administration, and his personal anger at Trump, were chronicled in the NBC News report, in which sources described Tillerson as on the verge of quitting in July. Vice President Mike Pence helped talk Tillerson out of it, the network reported.
Tillerson flatly denied that part of the account Wednesday.
The former ExxonMobile CEO's eight-month State Department tenure has been marked by tension over what Tillerson saw as Trump's impulse to cut him off at the knees on policy initiatives, and what the White House increasingly saw as Tillerson's tendency to freelance.
Tillerson also raised eyebrows with apparent criticism of Trump's response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, which the president said had included many "fine people." Tillerson's pointed remark that "the president speaks for himself" irked Trump, but did not provoke a crisis.
Tillerson said last month that he planned to "stick around" for awhile.