State Department hold first news briefing of Trump era

Acting spokesman Mark Toner calls on reporters in the first State Department briefing held since Donald Trump came to power

After 45 days of silence the US State Department held its first news briefing of Donald Trump's presidency on Tuesday, forced to deny suggestions that it is sliding into irrelevance.

What foreign policy there has been since Trump came to office on January 20 has been driven by his personality, his inner circle of advisers and relatives and his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has cut a discreet figure, shunning the media and public appearances while working to recruit a leadership team and prepare budget cuts.

For many, the cancellation of the daily briefing -- which is keenly watched around the world by journalists, academics and diplomats -- had become a symbol of State's diminished role.

But acting spokesman Mark Toner, a career diplomat who was deputy spokesman under the previous administration, returned to the podium on Tuesday and took questions from a packed room.

"Feels good to be back up here," he said, before fielding queries on Trump's ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority countries, North Korea's missile tests and Middle East peace.

Toner confirmed the widely reported fact that Tillerson plans to visit Japan, China and South Korea next week to talk, among other things, about the North Korean nuclear threat.

He defended the travel ban, insisting it was a security measure and would be lifted if Washington can develop a vetting system that can guarantee a traveller from the country poses no threat.

He insisted there had been no change to Washington's "One China" policy, and tried to clarify US policy on Israeli settlements.

But he also took questions on Tillerson's extremely low profile and a reported White House plan to slash the State Department and USAID budgets by more than a third.

"I appreciate the patience of all of you over the past month or so as this new administration got its sea legs underneath it," Toner told the assembled diplomatic press corps.

"I can also assure you that Secretary Tillerson is very engaged with the White House, very engaged with the president, he speaks to him frequently.

"He was over there I believe just yesterday for a meeting and I can assure everyone that the secretary's voice or the State Department's voice is heard loud and clear in policy discussions."