ANALYSIS: What we learned from Rex Tillerson's debut on the world stage

The new secretary of state appeared hesitant to speak up.

It was the first opportunity for the former Exxon Mobil CEO to show off the vaunted management skills and global experience that marked his time at the oil company and made him a marquee name for President Trump’s cabinet. But what the public saw was America’s top diplomat appearing hamstrung by a peremptory White House and hesitant to speak up.

Tillerson’s role as secretary of state has been scaled back.

The G20 is where Tillerson would take his first steps. “He’ll be primarily in listening mode,” said a senior State Department official. “He wants to use this initial engagement to get a sense of where the parties stand” in the Syria conflict, for example.

Tillerson is hesitant to talk to the press.

The two-day G20 summit is the first we’re hearing of Tillerson since he arrived at State. But the secretary spoke very little, especially to reporters, instead posing for pictures and only twice answering shouted questions.

The one time he did address the media was for brief prepared remarks. He left without taking questions.

Compared to his predecessors, he took a significantly reduced group of press with him on this trip, and the State Department hasn’t held a press briefing since he was sworn in.

The world is looking to American leadership, but nervous about what they’ll find.

On Russia, he reiterated Trump’s line that America “will consider working with Russia when we can find areas of practical cooperation.” But he took a firmer stance than the president has on Russian aggression, especially in Ukraine.

“Where we do not see eye to eye, the United States will stand up for the interests and values of America and her allies,” he said. “We expect Russia to honor its commitment to the Minsk agreements and work to de-escalate the violence in Ukraine."

He participated in big meetings on Yemen and Syria, and foreign counterparts were eager to meet him and get to work. He met with more than a dozen of them.

“Met a lot of people, made a lot of new friends. Full schedule,” he said Friday as he prepared to leave the summit with what he said were “many” messages for the president.

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