This Week at State: December 8, 2017

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This Week at State: December 8, 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:

U.S. Recognizes Jerusalem as Israel's Capital

On December 6, President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem, the ancient capital of the Jewish people, as the capital of the State of Israel. In a statement on this decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, the President said, “My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.”

In a statement released following the President’s announcement, Secretary Tillerson said, “President Trump‘s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital aligns U.S. presence with the reality that Jerusalem is home to Israel’s legislature, Supreme Court, President’s office, and Prime Minister‘s office. We have consulted with many friends, partners, and allies in advance of the President making his decision. We firmly believe there is an opportunity for a lasting peace.” 

President Trump instructed the State Department to develop a plan to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Secretary Tillerson, in a press availability while traveling in Vienna, addressed preparations to move the American embassy. “As to the move of the embassy, the President has directed me and the State Department to undertake the process to begin an effort to move the embassy. We are not going to be doing that quickly. We have to acquire a site. We have to develop building plans. We’ll have to construct the building. So this is not something that will happen overnight,” he said.

In a special briefing to members of the press on December 7, Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield commented on the President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. “I will restate what the President said, which is we recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. We are not changing or taking a position on the boundaries of sovereignty in Jerusalem...including geographic boundaries,” he said.

In Paris, Secretary Tillerson Meets French Leaders and Participates in International Support Group for Lebanon Meeting

On December 8, Secretary Tillerson traveled to Paris to meet with senior French leaders to discuss our deep cooperation on issues of mutual concern around the world, including in Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Libya, the DPRK, and the Sahel, in addition to areas of bilateral interest.

The Secretary also participated in the International Support Group Ministerial for Lebanon, demonstrating the United States’ strong support for the sovereignty, stability, and independence of the Republic of Lebanon and of its political institutions. Secretary Tillerson reiterated the United States’ continued commitment to the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and our partnership in the fight against terrorism. The Secretary also encouraged the Lebanese government and other nations to move more aggressively in limiting Hizballah’s destabilizing activity in the region, which will help make for a stronger, more stable Lebanon.

On December 7, Secretary Tillerson traveled to Vienna to attend the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council, hosted by the OSCE Chairman-in Office, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz. In an address to the representatives of the OSCE’s 57 member states Secretary Tillerson said, “The OSCE is an indispensable pillar of our common security architecture that bolsters peace and stability in Europe and Eurasia.”

The Secretary outlined the challenges confronting the OSCE today, saying “none is more important or vexing than the situation in Ukraine.” The Secretary reiterated the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and called for full implementation of the Minsk agreements. “We will never accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea. Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns full control of the peninsula to Ukraine,” he said. Secretary Tillerson also addressed other serious security challenges in Europe, from ongoing conflict to terrorism as well as global refugee and migration challenges.

"Whether it is ending the crisis in Ukraine, fighting terrorism, promoting human rights, or resolving longstanding conflicts, the OSCE is an important platform for addressing these challenges. The United States will continue its strong support for the OSCE and will reject efforts to weaken any of its institutions or its field missions. We urge member nations to act on our recommendations today for a more peaceful, prosperous Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia.”

- Secretary Tillerson, Remarks to OSCE Ministerial 

Secretary Tillerson Meets with OCSE Chairman and Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz

On the sidelines of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna on December 7, Secretary Tillerson met with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz to discuss combating violent extremism, curbing nuclear proliferation, promoting democratic and economic reform in the Western Balkans, and deepening bilateral trade ties.

Regarding his and Foreign Minister Kurz’s conversation on Ukraine, Secretary Tillerson said, “Both of us remain quite concerned and committed to the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereign territory.... We appreciate the strong solidarity of European partners in standing up on behalf of Ukraine to restore their sovereign territory to them. We support strongly the presence of the OSCE monitors and the very, very positive and important role they play in Ukraine in moving the process forward. As many of you know, we have been engaged through our special representative working with Russia in the hopes of putting a peacekeeping force in place to protect the monitors.” 

The Secretary also commented on their discussion on the necessity to fight against terrorism and radicalization. “This is a global threat that the world faces in terms of violent extremism, and I think, as the prime minister acknowledged, even a country like Austria is not immune, and we have a long road ahead of us not just to defeat violent extremism on the battlefield, but we must defeat them in the cyber space and in the social media space. This is where they recruit young minds, and we have to disrupt their ability to do so. And we look forward to continuing the very strong cooperation we have through our Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS with many, many of our European partners and partners around the world.” he said.

United States Addresses Allegations of Slavery in Libya at the UN Security Council

On December 7, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley commented on the UN Security Council’s adoption of a Security Council Presidential Statement on Allegations of Slavery in Libya.

“It’s critical for the Security Council ‎to speak up when human rights abuses threaten the lives of innocent civilians. Reports that people escaping violence are being sold into slavery in Libya are horrifying. All countries must do everything they can to end this barbaric practice. Until that time, those committing these unspeakable crimes must be brought to justice, and the victims must be treated with the respect and dignity that they deserve.” 

-  Ambassador Haley

U.S. Addresses Continued Violence in the Central African Republic

On December 6, Spokesperson Nauert released a statement condemning the continued targeted attacks against civilians, peacekeepers, and humanitarian actors in the Central African Republic.

Spokesperson Nauert said, “We call on armed groups to put down their weapons and engage, without preconditions and in good faith, with the CAR government. We firmly oppose impunity for human rights violations, and support the Special Criminal Court to promote justice for victims and accountability for those responsible for atrocities. The United States stands with the CAR Government, MINUSCA, and all Central Africans, as they strive for peace, justice, accountability, and the prevention of future atrocities in CAR.”

Secretary Tillerson Attends NATO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Brussels

On December 6, Secretary Tillerson met with the foreign ministers of the 28 European Union member states to discuss U.S.-EU cooperation on major global issues during the NATO Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. At a press availability following the meeting, Secretary Tillerson reaffirmed the United States’ support for NATO’s mission. The Secretary said, “We know that the security NATO provides protects Western democratic principles, protects our right to live in freedom.”

Secretary Tillerson underscored that the United States is eager for NATO allies to exert their sovereignty and take on greater responsibility for our shared deterrence and defense burden. The Secretary commended those NATO allies who have made additional commitments and greater contributions, but also emphasized that “increased spending, however, is not enough. It is really about increasing capabilities.” To this end, Secretary Tillerson noted that in the Foreign Ministers’ meetings, the group discussed ways to further leverage the action plan to strengthen the allies’ resilience against terrorist attacks and, in particular, to build upon NATO’s already long-standing commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Secretary also commented on Russia-NATO relations and Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine. “And Russia’s continued use of hybrid warfare seeks to undermine Western institutions, and this stands as a significant obstacle to normalizing our relations, as well. Russia’s aggression in Ukraine remains the biggest threat to European security, and demands continued transatlantic unity in confronting that threat,” he said.

As he closed his remarks, the Secretary reiterated the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO and Article 5. Secretary Tillerson concluded, “As we have done for decades, the United States will continue to maintain our straightforward, ironclad commitment to Article 5. We will continue to work for the common defense and the preservation of peace called for in the NATO charter, and do so with confidence that our allies will continue to do the same.” 

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks during a press availability at NATO in Brussels, Belgium on December 6, 2017. (State Department photo)

U.S. Participates in United Nations Human Rights Council Special Session on Burma

On December 5, the UN Human Rights Council held a special session on Burma.  At the special session, Ambassador Kelley Eckels Currie, the U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor reiterated Secretary Tillerson’s call for all actors to play a constructive role in resolving the human rights situation in Burma and holding perpetrators of human rights violations accountable.

State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement on the session noting “The United States was an early supporter of this special session and a co-sponsor of the resulting resolution on the Situation of Human Rights for Rohingya Muslims and other Minorities in Myanmar.” Spokesperson Nauert’s statement reiterated, “The United States urges an immediate end to violence, restoration of the rule of law, countrywide access for the UN Fact-Finding Mission, immediate humanitarian and media access to affected areas, and guaranteed and verifiably safe, voluntary, and dignified return for those who want to return to their homes

Secretary Tillerson Meets with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg

On December 4, Secretary Tillerson traveled to Brussels, Belgium where he met with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. In remarks at their meeting, Secretary Tillerson thanked Secretary General Stoltenberg for his strong leadership of NATO and reaffirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to NATO as well as its unwavering commitment to Article 5 of the NATO agreement

Secretary Tillerson Meets with European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini in Brussels

While in Brussels, on December 4, Secretary Tillerson met with European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini. Following their meeting, the Secretary and High Representative released a joint statement “confirming the importance that the European Union and the United States attach to their close partnership and cooperation.” In the joint statement, the two leaders also acknowledged their meeting as an opportunity to renew collectively our commitment to a close cooperation on a number of important points -- particularly four issues: the Middle East Peace process; the implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran; the situation in Syria; and the Western Balkans.

Deputy Secretary Sullivan Addresses Event on Engaging Men and Boys to Prevent Violence Against Women and Children

In recognition of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan addressed an event aimed at engaging men and boys in the effort to prevent violence against women and children. Deputy Secretary Sullivan said, “Gender-based violence harms individuals, violates the most basic of our inalienable human rights.” In his remarks, the Deputy Secretary also took a moment to acknowledge some of the shocking and saddening statistics about sexual assault, early or forced marriage and rape, dating violence, and so-called honor killings that women and girls disproportionately face around the world.

“One of the most important steps to ending this global problem is engaging everyone, including men and boys. Violence against women negatively affects men and boys in two ways: directly, as survivors of violence, and indirectly, through their exposure to it. Study after study has shown that when violence is witnessed or experienced, it’s likely to be repeated. Gender-based violence is cyclical. Men who witness violence at an early age are twice as likely to be perpetrators of violence in the future. Similarly, girls who experience abusive relationships early in their lives are at an increased risk of being victimized by others later in life. Engaging men and boys as loving, supportive, and involved husbands and fathers is critical to achieving sustained transformational change.”

- Deputy Secretary Sullivan

U.S. Calls on Government of Ukraine to Fight Corruption

In a statement to the press on December 4, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert addressed recent events -- including the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the seizure of sensitive NABU files -- that raised concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to fighting corruption. Spokesperson Nauert noted, “These actions appear to be part of an effort to undermine independent anti-corruption institutions that the United States and others have helped support. They undermine public trust and risk eroding international support for Ukraine.”

“Anti-corruption institutions must be supported, resourced, and defended.”

Reflecting the choice of the people of Ukraine, the United States calls on all branches of Ukraine’s government to work together cooperatively to eliminate corruption from public life. Eliminating corruption is key to achieving stability, security, and prosperity for all Ukrainians.”

- Heather Nauert, State Department Spokesperson, Press Statement

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