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State Dept. officials accuse Tillerson of breaching law on child soldiers

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (Photo by AFP)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has violated a federal law designed to stop foreign military forces from recruiting child soldiers, State Department officials say, in what seems to be an unusual rebellion against the top American diplomat.

Over a dozen department officials charge that a June decision by Tillerson to exclude Iraq, Myanmar, and Afghanistan from a US list of countries that used child soldiers was in breach of the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing a confidential “dissent” memo.

Apparently, Tillerson made the move despite his department’s public acknowledgment of child soldier conscriptions in those countries, the report stated.

Removing the countries from the yearly list makes it easier for the US military to “assist” the countries in question, Reuters wrote.

American troops have long been present in Iraq and Afghanistan, allegedly training military forces there against terrorist groups. In Myanmar, however, the US sees an emerging ally that can help offset China’s influence in Southeast Asia.

According to Reuters, Tillerson’s decision also ran afoul of a unanimous recommendation by the heads of the State Department’s regional bureaus overseeing US embassies in the Middle East and Asia, the US envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, the department’s human rights office and its lawyers.

“Beyond contravening US law, this decision risks marring the credibility of a broad range of State Department reports and analyses and has weakened one of the US government’s primary diplomatic tools to deter governmental armed forces and government-supported armed groups from recruiting and using children in combat and support roles around the world,” read the July 28 memo, which Reuters said had never been reported before.

'There is a difference'

Tillerson’s adviser Brian Hook acknowledged the claim in a September 1 response to the memo but said there was a difference “between governments making little or no effort to correct their child soldier violations ... and those which are making sincere - if as yet incomplete - efforts.”

Passed in 2008, the child soldiers law states that, before removing a country from the list, the US government must make sure that no children under the age of 18 “are recruited, conscripted or otherwise compelled to serve as child soldiers.”

The new document shows the extent of the opposition Tillerson is faced with in the State Department. The report said the department’s “dissent channel,” which allows officials to object to policies without fear of reprisals, has seen unprecedented use under the former chief of Exxon Mobil Corp.

The views expressed by the US officials illustrate ongoing tensions between career diplomats and the former oil tycoon and close friend of President Donald Trump.

Upon picking Tillerson for the job, Trump said he was appointed to pursue an “America First” approach to diplomacy.

However, there has been increasing reports of simmering tensions between the two as they have publicly diverged on some of the administration's most crucial foreign policy challenges, including Iran and North Korea. They both have denied the allegations.

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