Rex Tillerson Thinks the U.S. Should Maintain ‘Status Quo’ on Russian Sanctions

Updated: Jan 12, 2017 2:56 PM UTC

Rex Tillerson is in favor of sanctions the United States currently has against Russia, but only some of them.

During his confirmation hearing Wednesday, the former Exxon Mobil (xom) executive said that while he would keep the United States' current sanctions against Russia, he would refuse to support the additional sanctions President Obama recently authorized against the country. Obama passed the executive order in direct response to Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 election.

"I would leave things in the status quo so we are able to convey this can go either way," Tillerson said, who later added that he "would recommend maintaining the status quo until we are able to engage with Russia and understand better what their intentions are."

Since his nomination, both Republicans and Democrats have questioned Tillerson's relationship with Russia and President Vladimir Putin. In 2013, he was awarded Russia's Order of Friendship after he signed deals with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft, the Washington Post reports. And during his hearing Wednesday, Tillerson refused to call Putin a "war criminal" when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked him about Putin's support of the Assad regime in Syria.

Lifting sanctions on Russia could also mean billions of dollars in deals for Tillerson's former company, Exxon—an opportunity that creates a "very blurry line between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat," notes the New York Times.

But despite being grilled by Senators about Russian sanctions, and the possible conflicts of interest it poses, Tillerson responded that if confirmed, he would "serve no one’s interest expect for the those of the American people, and the interest of our national security."

Tillerson's sanction remarks contrast those of President-elect Donald Trump (as do his views on climate change), who takes office on Jan. 20. In the past, Trump has said he will improve ties with Russia by revoking at least some of the sanctions currently against Moscow, Reuters reports.