This Week at State: October 20, 2017

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This Week at State: October 20, 2017

Did you miss key foreign policy developments this week? We’ve got you covered. Each week, DipNote recaps the latest U.S. Department of State highlights spanning a wide range of global issues, events, and initiatives in one blog post.

Here are the highlights from This Week at State:

Secretary Tillerson Congratulates People of Syria on Liberation of Raqqa

On October 20, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson congratulated the Syrian people and the Syrian Democratic Forces, including the Syrian Arab Coalition, on the liberation of Raqqa.

“The United States is proud to lead the 73-member Global Coalition that supported this effort, which has seen ISIS’s so-called caliphate crumble across Iraq and Syria. Our work is far from over but the liberation of Raqqa is a critical milestone in the global fight against ISIS, and underscores the success of the ongoing international and Syrian effort to defeat these terrorists.”

– Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Secretary Tillerson also commented on those who lost their lives during the liberation efforts, saying: “We cannot forget that this accomplishment also came at significant costs. The Syrian Democratic Forces suffered many losses along the way and we join them in mourning the lives lost. We also mourn the U.S. service members, and others from the Coalition, who made the ultimate sacrifice of giving their life to rid the region of ISIS and protect our homeland.”

Secretary Tillerson highlighted the next phase of the Syrian conflict, in which the United States and its partners will continue to seek to de-escalate violence across Syria, as well as to provide crucial humanitarian assistance, support stabilization efforts, and advance UN-led diplomatic efforts to reach a genuine political transition that honors the will of the Syrian people.

During the Department Press Briefing on October 19, Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that U.S. priorities for assistance in Raqqa and areas on the road to Raqqa will include urgent humanitarian needs of internally displaced persons, clearing the explosive remnants of war, support to establish basic security, and the re-establishment of essential services such as water, electricity, health services, and other infrastructure rehabilitation.

Secretary Tillerson Speaks on U.S.-India Relations

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave remarks on U.S. policy toward India at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on October 18. Summarizing the current U.S.-India relationship, Secretary Tillerson emphasized the positive cooperation between U.S. President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

“President Trump and Prime Minister Modi are committed, more than any other leaders before them, to building an ambitious partnership that benefits not only our two great democracies, but other sovereign nations working toward greater peace and stability,” Secretary Tillerson said. The Secretary added, “This relationship is built on shared values. That’s what has brought us together. Two very large important democracies want to share the same future and we have a shared vision for the future.”

Secretary Tillerson Travels to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan, India and Switzerland from October 20-27

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will travel to Riyadh, Doha, Islamabad, New Delhi, and Geneva October 20-27. During his travel to Riyadh and Doha, the Secretary will have meetings with his counterparts on a wide range of issues, ranging from counterterrorism efforts and the ongoing Gulf dispute to issues of regional security, including Iraq and Iran.

In his inaugural visit to South Asia as Secretary of State, Secretary Tillerson will meet with senior Pakistani leaders to discuss our continued strong bilateral cooperation and Pakistan’s critical role in the success of our South Asia strategy. In India, the Secretary will meet with senior Indian leaders to discuss further strengthening our strategic partnership and collaboration on security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region, advancing the ambitious agenda laid out by President Trump and Prime Minister Modi during the Prime Minister’s visit to the White House in June.

In Geneva, Secretary Tillerson will meet with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss a number of the current global humanitarian crises.

Follow the Secretary’s trip on the Department’s trip page, or via Twitter or Facebook.

Secretary Tillerson Comments on Situation in Burma

During the question and answer period following his remarks at the Center for International Studies on October 18, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commented on the current situation in Burma. Expressing the United States’ concern, Secretary Tillerson emphasized that he has been in contact with Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Burma, to discuss the situation and that the United States holds the military leadership accountable for the current situation in the Rohingya area.

“What’s most important to us is that the world can’t just stand idly by and be witness to the atrocities that are being reported in the area.” 

- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson participates in question-and-answer with CEO for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) John J. Hamre at Center for Strategic and International Studies headquarters in Washington, D.C. on October 18, 2017.

Secretary Tillerson Speaks on New Iran Strategy and North Korea

During appearances on Face the Nation and State of the Union on October 15, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answered questions about the new United States Strategy on Iran and the situation in North Korea.

Summarizing the United States’ concerns regarding the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and its prospects for improvement, Secretary Tillerson said, “The issue with the Iran agreement is it does not achieve the objective. It simply postpones the achievement of that objective, and we feel that that is one of the weaknesses under the agreement. So we’re going to stay in, we’re going to work with our European partners and allies to see if we can’t address these concerns, which are concerns of all of us.”

Highlighting the success of the United States’ strategy toward North Korea, Secretary Tillerson said, “We now have the most comprehensive sanctions in place that have ever been put in place to strangle the North Korean regime’s economic revenue streams.” The Secretary added, “I think in North Korea we have completely unified the international community, including North Korea’s previously closest allies now are aligned with us.”

Department of State Revises Assessment of Personnel Affected in Cuba

On October 20, Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said that based on ongoing assessments of U.S. government personnel, the Department of State can confirm 24 persons have experienced health effects from the attacks in Cuba. Spokesperson Nauert continued, “The assessments are based on medical evaluations of personnel who were affected by incidents earlier this year. They do not reflect new attacks.” She added, “We can’t rule out additional new cases as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community.”

Deputy Secretary Travels to Japan and South Korea

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan travelled to Tokyo, Japan and Seoul, South Korea from October 16-19 for tri-lateral meetings with Japanese and Korean counterparts.

During meetings with Japanese counterparts in Tokyo, Deputy Secretary Sullivan underscored the importance of close cooperation to place maximum diplomatic, economic, and military pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear and missile development.

Deputy Secretary John Sullivan meets with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono in Tokyo, Japan on October 16, 2017.

In Seoul, Deputy Secretary Sullivan met with the Korean National Security Advisor to discuss concrete ways to address the North Korea threat, improve economic ties, and coordinate on other important regional and global issues. The Deputy Secretary also met with a group of defectors from North Korea and visited the Yongsan Garrison and the demilitarized zone with U.S. Forces Korea Commander General Brooks.

United States Expresses Concern, Condemnation for Actions by Venezuelan Government

The United States applauded the courage, determination, and will of the Venezuelan people who tried to exercise their constitutional right to vote in the October 15 gubernatorial elections. In a statement released on October 16, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert condemned the lack of free and fair elections yesterday in Venezuela, stating, “The voice of the Venezuelan people was not heard.”

On October 19, Spokesperson Nauert released a second statement condemning, on behalf of the United States, the Venezuelan government’s latest anti-democratic action: requiring newly elected governors to submit to the illegitimate Constituent Assembly to be sworn into office. Spokesperson Nauert reiterated, “The United States supports a complete election audit by credible, internationally recognized entities, and the establishment of an independent National Electoral Council.”

United States Condemns Terrorist Attacks in Mogadishu

In a statement released on October 15, Spokesperson Nauert conveyed the United States’ condemnation in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks that killed and injured hundreds in Mogadishu on October 14.

“We extend our‎ deepest condolences to all Somalis, especially those who lost friends and family in the attacks. We further wish for a quick recovery for all those injured. In the face of this senseless and cowardly act, the United States will continue to stand with the Somali government, its people, and our international allies to combat terrorism and support their efforts to achieve peace, security, and prosperity.”

– Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert

Follow the State Department on Twitter and Facebook for additional information and updates.

Editor’s Note: This entry is also published in the U.S. Department of State’s publication on