Secretary Tillerson Addresses Foreign Policy Challenges at Atlantic Council Forum

6 minutes read time
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at the 2017 Atlantic Council – Korea Foundation Forum in Washington, D.C., December 12, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers remarks at the 2017 Atlantic Council – Korea Foundation Forum in Washington, D.C., December 12, 2017. (State Department photo)

Secretary Tillerson Addresses Foreign Policy Challenges at Atlantic Council Forum

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave remarks on “Meeting the Foreign Policy Challenges of 2017 and Beyond” at the 2017 Atlantic Council-Korea Foundation Forum on December 12, 2017 in Washington, DC. Reflecting on the past 11 months, Secretary Tillerson outlined many of President Trump’s foreign policy priorities around the world.

North Korea

Secretary Tillerson spoke about addressing the threat of North Korea as “the first policy President Trump asked the State Department to develop and put in place.” The Secretary continued, “Our policy with respect to the DPRK is really quite clear, and that is the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Addressing the pressure campaign against North Korea, Secretary Tillerson said, “We have put in place now over the past many months the most comprehensive set of economic sanctions that I think have ever been assembled through two very comprehensive UN Security Council resolutions with the support, notably, of both China and Russia, clearly indications of how they view the seriousness of the threat as well.”

Secretary Tillerson also spoke about the potential for diplomatic talks with North Korea. “We need the DPRK to come to the table for talks. We’re ready to talk anytime they’d like to talk, but they have to come to the table and they have to come to the table with a view that they do want to make a different choice.”

U.S. Relationship with China

Speaking about China, Secretary Tillerson said, “we are now searching for what will define the U.S.-China relationship for the next 50 years.” The Secretary emphasized cooperation regarding North Korea and trade relations as priorities, but also commented on the four high-level strategic dialogues held between the U.S. and China in 2017.

“This diplomatic and strategic Dialogue is chaired by Secretary Mattis and myself, and this dialogue is really to explore areas that we can work together and explore areas where we have differences, and in this exploratory process create results that will over time hopefully allow us to define what this new relationship will be. The other dialogues are economic and trade, law enforcement and cyber, and social people-to-people dialogues. All four of the dialogues met throughout the last year, and they are designed to be results-driven, and the results of those were reported out at President Trump’s summit in Beijing.”
–Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

The Global Effort to Defeat Terrorism

Secretary Tillerson addressed many elements of the global effort to defeat terrorism, from the defeat ISIS campaign in Syria and Iraq to the efforts to counter terrorism financing through cooperation with the Treasury Department and the fight against terrorism in South Asia.

“In moving to the defeat ISIS campaign quickly, in Iraq and Syria, as the President entered office, he took a significant policy shift in the war to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria and ordered aggressive new strategies and empowered our military commanders on the ground to carry out battlefield decisions in a way that would win the war on the battlefield,” Secretary Tillerson said.

Secretary Tillerson addressed the success of President Trump’s 2017 summit in Saudi Arabia to combat violent extremism. The Secretary said, “out of that summit were two very important commitments: to create a center to counter violent extremism in Saudi Arabia and to create a center to disrupt counterterrorism financing networks. Both of those centers have now been established, and they are getting underway with work to not just defeat counterterrorism on the battlefield, as we say, or defeat terrorism on the battlefield, but to counter it in cyber space.”

The Secretary also highlighted the President’s South Asia strategy and its role to defeat terrorism in the region. Secretary Tillerson stressed the regional approach to the strategy, its “conditions-based” approach, and its emphasis on working with Pakistan to “stamp out terrorism within their boundaries.”


Secretary Tillerson highlighted the U.S.-Europe relationship, particularly the importance of NATO to our collective security. The Secretary continued by addressing the challenge of Russia and the lack of a working relationship between the U.S. and Russia, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the “the logjam for east Ukraine to implement the Minsk accords.”

The Redesign of the State Department

Speaking about plans to redesign the State Department, Secretary Tillerson discussed the redesign effort underway aimed at modernizing the State Department, USAID, and making it easier for both entities to deliver on their missions. Secretary Tillerson emphasized the quality of the individuals working at the State Department who are dedicated to their positions and have stepped into important roles. “They have been nothing but supportive of the President’s policies, the pivots that had to be made... their ability and their nimbleness to quickly get behind and understand what the President’s objectives and priorities are – and then we will work hard to deliver on that mission – that’s something everyone at the State Department understands.”

The Secretary added that he is very confident with the team currently in place, as the Department has worked this year to reposition the President’s priorities and execute them.

As Secretary Tillerson concluded, he recognized the interconnectedness of today’s global conflicts and challenges, particularly in today’s diplomacy landscape. “This is not a world that lends itself to compartmentalization any longer. There’s too many interconnections, there’s too many intersections, and recognizing those is important if you’re really going to solve some of these and solve them once and for all. So it takes a little longer. It’s hard work. But that is the nature of diplomacy today in this very complicated world we find ourselves in, which has far too much conflict going on.”