The US ambassador to Peru announced that he was stepping down from his post because he could no longer “faithfully” serve President Donald Trump.
Ambassador to Panama John Feeley said: “As a junior foreign service officer, I signed an oath to serve faithfully the president and his administration in an apolitical fashion, even when I might not agree with certain policies.”
“My instructors made clear that if I believed I could not do that, I would be honor bound to resign. That time has come,” he added according to an excerpt of a resignation letter read to Reuters on Friday.
Feeley’s departure had been communicated to State Department officials on December 27 and was not a response to Trump’s alleged use of an obscenity to describe Haiti and African countries at a meeting on Thursday, US officials said.
Trump denies using the term.
Feeley, one of the department’s Latin America specialists and among its senior most officers, made clear that he had come to a place where he no longer felt able to serve under Trump.
A State Department spokeswoman confirmed Feeley’s departure, saying that he “has informed the White House, the Department of State, and the Government of Panama of his decision to retire for personal reasons, as of March 9 of this year.”
Speaking to reporters, Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein said he was aware of Feeley’s planned departure on Thursday morning, before Trump’s alleged use of the vulgar term, and said the ambassador was leaving for “personal reasons.”
“Everyone has a line that they will not cross,” Goldstein told reporters at the State Department. “If the ambassador feels that he can no longer serve ... then he has made the right decision for himself and we respect that.”
US officials declined to discuss Feeley’s reasons for leaving the department after a long career, much of which was spent working on Latin American issues.
Some of Trump’s policies have been widely regarded within the region as hostile to Latin America.
The Trump administration has taken a tougher stance on immigration from Latin America, most notably with moves to expel hundreds of thousands of immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and Nicaragua who benefited from temporary protection status after natural disasters.
Feeley’s career included serving as the No. 2 official in the State Department bureau that deals with Latin America, as deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Mexico City and as director for Central American affairs in Washington. A career diplomat, he is a former Marine Corps helicopter pilot.
Trump on Thursday questioned why the United States would want to have immigrants from Haiti and African nations, referring to some with obscene language, during a briefing on draft immigration legislation, according to two sources familiar with the comments.
The United States should seek immigrants from Norway instead, he reportedly said, in comments that were widely interpreted as racist.
On Friday, the Republican president denied making the vulgar reference during the meeting.
But Democratic US Senator Dick Durbin, who had attended the White House meeting on immigration the previous day, told reporters that Trump had used "vile, vulgar" language.