Donald Trump Search broadens for President-elect's top diplomat

Trump top aide Kellyanne Conway said "a very full slate of meetings" was set to begin Monday to fill the remaining cabinet positions.

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US President-elect Donald Trump arrives to attend a ?Villains and Heroes? themed costume party on December 3, 2016 play

US President-elect Donald Trump arrives to attend a ?Villains and Heroes? themed costume party on December 3, 2016

(AFP/File)
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Donald Trump on Sunday expanded his search for a secretary of state -- a crucial post given the president-elect's unorthodox communication style -- as aides downplayed the controversy over his phone call with Taiwan's leader.

Trump top aide Kellyanne Conway said "a very full slate of meetings" was set to begin Monday to fill the remaining cabinet positions, including post of top US diplomat.

While Trump has named his picks for senior defense and economic officials, the lack of a top diplomat is a glaring hole for the incoming administration of a political novice known for dashing off comments on Twitter on everything from election fraud claims to complaints about late-night comedians.

While four men have been mentioned for weeks as top contenders -- former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, ex-UN ambassador John Bolton, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and retired army general and ex-CIA chief David Petraeus -- other names have begun to surface.

"It is true that he's broadened the search," Conway told reporters at Trump Tower in New York.

The candidates "need to understand that their first responsibility as secretary of state would be to implement and adhere to the president-elect's America First foreign policy, if you will, his view of the world," Conway said.

Former Utah governor and ex-ambassador to Beijing Jon Huntsman is in the mix, according to CNN, while other news reports said Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson and Republican Senator Bob Corker are also being considered.

"That list is expanding because... there is not a finite list of finalists," Conway said.

Petraeus is keen

Petraeus, who resigned in disgrace as head of the CIA in 2012, said Sunday he's paid for his mistakes and was ready to become Trump's chief diplomat.

"I have acknowledged for a number for years that five years ago I made a serious mistake, I acknowledged it, I apologized for it, I have paid a heavy price for it, and I have learned from it," Petraeus told ABC's "This Week" program.

Ret. General and former CIA Director, David Petraeus leaves after meetings with President-elect Donald Trump on November 28, 2016 at Trump Tower in New York play

Ret. General and former CIA Director, David Petraeus leaves after meetings with President-elect Donald Trump on November 28, 2016 at Trump Tower in New York

(AFP)

The 64-year-old scholar-warrior, who masterminded the widely credited surge in Iraq from 2008-2010, has a depth of experience in world affairs unmatched by any of the other known candidates.

He was forced to resign from the CIA after an investigation revealed he had shown classified material to his mistress and biographer Paula Broadwell.

In 2015 he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials, and was put on two years' probation and fined $100,000.

Vice president-elect Mike Pence praised Petraeus as "an American hero" on NBC's "Meet the Press," adding that he "made mistakes and he paid for his mistakes."

Trump "will factor the totality of general Petraeus's career in making this decision," Pence said.

The scandal however could pose a problem for obtaining Senate approval, and expose Trump to accusations of hypocrisy after savaging Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign for mishandling classified emails as secretary of state.

Taiwan's 'courtesy call'

Both Pence and Conway downplayed Trump's phone call Friday with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen, which broke decades of US diplomatic policy and risks creating a serious rift with China.

Kellyanne Conway, senior advisor to US President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has worked to downplay Trump's phone call with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen play

Kellyanne Conway, senior advisor to US President-elect Donald Trump's transition team has worked to downplay Trump's phone call with Taiwan's leader Tsai Ing-wen

(AFP)

"It was nothing more than taking a courtesy call from a democratically elected leader," Pence said on ABC.

China regards self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification, and any US move implying support for independence -- even calling Tsai "president," as Trump did when he announced the call on Twitter -- prompts grave offense in Beijing.

Washington cut formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 and recognizes Beijing as the sole government of "One China," while keeping friendly, non-official ties with Taipei.

Trump "took the call, accepted her congratulations and good wishes and it was precisely that," Pence said, dismissing the controversy as a "tempest in a teapot."

Chinese state media said Trump's "inexperience" led him to accept the call but warned that any breach of the "One China" stance would "destroy" Sino-US relations.

Conway, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," said her boss "is well aware" of the "One China" policy.

"It was just a phone call at this point. It signals the fact that he accepted a congratulatory call," Conway said.

"When he's sworn in as commander-in-chief, he'll make clear the fullness of his plans. But people shouldn't read too much into it," she said.

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