Tillerson: Pushing human rights abroad 'creates obstacles' to US interests

Tillerson said that American values should be separate from foreign policy.

“If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to after a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests,” he said, arguing the U.S. must first ask “what are our national security interests, what are our economic prosperity interests, and then if we can advocate and advance our values, we should.”

Tillerson's State Department is facing a budget cut of more than 28 percent that the Trump administration outlined in its first budget proposal. Tillerson's review of the agency's spending started Monday with a “listening tour” -- a survey asking for feedback from all department employees in the nation's capital and at diplomatic posts around the world.

Tillerson offered no details of how he would make cuts. Instead, he said he is open to the recommendations and ideas of the department’s civil servants and foreign service officers.

“We have no preconceived notions on the outcome. I didn't come with a solution in a box when I showed up. I came with a commitment to look at it and see if we can improve it,” he told a packed room.

In particular, he wants the institution to “adapt” to new challenges and transition from its Cold War-era models and habits, he said.

While offering few details on how the agency will meet the administration's proposed budget cuts, Tillerson tried to reassure an anxious audience of employees.

“I want to condition you to be ready to participate in the next phase because that's when it will become more challenging,” he said. “But we're all on this boat, on this voyage -- I’m not going to call it a cruise, it may not be that fun,” he added to laughter.