Top U.S. diplomat urges action on harassment as issue roils White House




 

CAIRO (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday urged department employees to intervene if they witness sexual harassment, two days after U.S. President Donald Trump expressed sympathy for those accused of harassment and not given due process.

"There is no form of disrespect for the individual that I can identify, anything more demeaning than for someone to suffer this kind of treatment," he said.

"It's not OK if you're seeing it happening and just look away. You must do something. You must notify someone. You must step in and intervene," Tillerson added, speaking in Cairo to about 150 U.S. embassy staff outside the ambassador's residence.

Tillerson's comments came amid a chorus of sexual misconduct accusations against powerful men in media, business and politics in the United States that in recent days has reached top aides in the White House.

His remarks also stand in stark contrast to those expressed by Trump, who last week defended a top aide who resigned after domestic violence allegations against him came to light and over the weekend also took to Twitter to raise doubts about such allegations.

A second White House aide left late last week after domestic violence allegations against him also surfaced. Both men have denied the accusations. Reuters has not independently verified either case.

"(People's) lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. ... Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?" Trump said on Twitter on Saturday.

Tillerson, in contrast, on Monday emphasized that all State Department employees would undergo mandatory training to be completed by June 1. The training was announced last month, according to the department.

Speaking in Cairo at the start of a Middle East tour, he said respect for one another is a key value at the State Department, noting that a prime example is the problem of sexual harassment.

In November, some 200 women who worked in national security, including at the State Department, signed a letter calling for mandatory training and channels to report abuse without fear of retribution.

Asked about Trump's public defense of one of the now-departed aides, Rob Porter, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley on Monday said that, while Trump has not spoken out publicly against the allegations in that case, the president has in the past said domestic abuse is "disgusting."

"There is no place for it in this country and no place for it in the White House, and the president won't stand for it," Gidley told Fox News in an interview.

(Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Makini Brice and Susan Heavey; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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