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Watch Rex Tillerson's Senate confirmation hearing live

By
Andrew V. Pestano

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump's pick to serve as the next secretary of state, is expected to face scrutiny for his apparent close ties to Russia as part of his confirmation process Wednesday.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will question Tillerson on, among other topics, how he would lead as the head of the U.S. Department of State, his qualifications for the position and his business history as the former leader of one of the world's largest oil companies.

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Tillerson is expected to defend himself over possible conflicts of interest and allegations related to his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to remarks prepared for his opening statement, Tillerson said he wants to embrace Trump's desire to improve relations with Russia, but added he would remain "clear eyed" about the relationship. Tillerson wrote that President Barack Obama's administration enabled Russia to increase its aggression to advance interests.

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"[Russia] has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war ... Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia," Tillerson wrote. "It was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent ... We backtracked on commitments we made to allies. We sent weak or mixed signals with "red lines" that turned into green lights." Trump in a statement said Tillerson's "tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics" made him qualified to serve as the top U.S. diplomat, despite never serving in public office.

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"The thing I like best about Rex Tillerson is that he has vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments," Trump tweeted in December.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he expects Tillerson will listen to Russia, but will continue with his legacy of being a "tough person."

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