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In Europe, Tillerson carries on but with diminished standing

Dec. 5, 2017 at 11:55 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks Tuesday   at the EU Council building in Brussels.

BRUSSELS (AP) — What do you do when you're America's top diplomat, fourth in line to the presidency, and the White House makes it publicly known you're living on borrowed time?

If you're Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, you brush it off, pack a suitcase and hop a flight to Europe, as if nothing had happened.

On the surface, at least, Tillerson carried on in ordinary fashion Tuesday on his first day in the Belgian capital, stoically sauntering from meeting to meeting in his characteristically subdued style. He praised President Donald Trump repeatedly for holding Iran to account and demanding equal contributions from NATO allies, even as he acknowledged getting "a little criticism" over his management of his agency.

"The State Department is not missing a beat," Tillerson told American diplomats at the U.S. Embassy.

Arriving at NATO headquarters for a gathering of foreign ministers, Tillerson ignored a question about whether he was confident he still spoke for the president.

Tillerson's tenuous future in the Trump administration has followed him to Europe days after the White House signaled he might be fired — possibly soon.

Even though Tillerson brushed it off as "laughable" and Trump tweeted it was "FAKE NEWS," the damage to Tillerson's standing had been done.

In Belgium, Austria and France, Tillerson is contending with European officials who now have more reason than ever to question whether he still carries the president's confidence, how much credence to give his policies and if he'll remain long enough to see them through. For foreign governments, it has created even more uncertainty over dealing with a mercurial administration in which the only voice that seems to matter is that of Trump himself.

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