Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, whose company has extensive drilling interests in Russia, has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next secretary of state, U.S. media report.
Reuters and The Wall Street Journal both quoted senior aides to President-elect Donald Trump as saying Trump now favored Tillerson because he would be "mold-breaking" in bringing a corporate executive's experience for the first time to the top diplomatic post.
Tillerson rose to prominence through Exxon's Russian energy business and Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded him a state Order of Friendship medal in 2013 for what the Kremlin called a "significant contribution to strengthening cooperation in the fuel and energy sector."
In 2011, Exxon Mobil signed a deal with Rosneft, Russia's largest state-owned oil company, for joint oil exploration and production.
Since then the two companies have formed 10 joint ventures for projects in Russia, but Western sanctions against Russia, which prevent the country from certain energy development activities, have slowed Exxon Mobil's investments.
Tillerson has been a vocal critic of Western sanctions, which have forced Exxon Mobil to abandon some projects, costing it at least $1 billion in losses.
Tillerson's company has also not been able to collect its revenues from an investment in an oil and gas consortium it belongs to that operates off Russia's Sakhalin Island.
Exxon Mobil operates in more than 50 countries and claims it explores for oil and natural gas on six continents.
As reports surfaced about Tillerson's possible nomination, another candidate for the post, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, announced he was pulling out of the running.
"My desire to be in the cabinet was great, but it wasn't that great, and he had a lot of terrific candidates," Giuliani, who was a vocal advocate for Trump during the campaign, told Fox News.
Trump met with Tillerson on December 6 and may talk to him again over the weekend, aides said.
While Tillerson is now favored for the job, aides said others also remain in contention, including 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, and retired Navy Admiral James Stavridis.