This Week at State: December 15, 2017

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This Week at State: December 15, 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 Participates in UNSC Ministerial Meeting on D.P.R.K.

Secretary Tillerson participated in a UN Security Council Ministerial Briefing on Non-Proliferation and the D.P.R.K. on December 15 in New York, New York City. During the briefing, Secretary Tillerson reiterated that the United States and the international community will not stand by while North Korea continues to develop nuclear and missile capabilities that openly threaten international peace and security. The Secretary called on all member states to work together and maintain maximum pressure on the DPRK in order to compel North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

For more information on the Secretary’s remarks, see this DipNote entry.

The Secretary also met with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, Dutch Foreign Minister Halbe Zijlstra, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres in separate meetings.

Secretary Tillerson Addresses Atlantic Council - Korea Foundation Forum

Secretary Tillerson delivered remarks about meeting the foreign policy challenges of 2017 and beyond at the 2017 Atlantic Council – Korea Foundation Forum on December 12. The Secretary highlighted the importance of our allies around the world, which he called a great strength of U.S. foreign policy, as well as the threats posed by some of our adversaries.

At the outset of his remarks, the Secretary said, “I am going to touch on, obviously, the situation with the DPRK and our relations with China, but I’m going to touch on the efforts to defeat ISIS and, in particular, our efforts in Iraq and Syria; the broader counterterrorism policies that we are executing through the Middle East, many of which emerge from the President’s historic Riyadh summit. But how counterterrorism is playing out in other parts of the world – in the Sahel in Africa and Libya, but also we see it even in Asia in the region in Philippines and Mindanao. I’m going to touch on South Asia and the President’s policy on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India; the EU-NATO relationship; Russia and our efforts to re-establish relations with Russia; and then I’m going to just pick very quickly at a few of the issues we’re dealing with in the Western Hemisphere.”

For a full recap of the Secretary’s remarks, see this DipNote entry.

Secretary Tillerson and Secretary Nielsen Host the Second U.S.-Mexico Strategic Dialogue on Disrupting Transnational Criminal Organizations

On December 14 at the Department of State, Secretary Tillerson, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions convened the second high-level dialogue with their Mexican counterparts to continue discussion on strategies to combat transnational criminal organizations. The dialogue advanced strategic approaches to disrupt the multi-billion-dollar business model of those who profit from illicit drug trafficking and threaten our security.

In remarks during a joint press availability, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan highlighted the important cooperation between the United States and Mexico to interdict illegal transports, find and punish criminals involved in these organizations, and cut off their sources of funding.

Deputy Secretary Sullivan concluded, “The United States is grateful for the strong bilateral relationship we share with our neighbors to the south. We will continue to maintain and grow our strong partnership with Mexico on this critical issue, as on so many others.”

For more information on this U.S.-Mexico Strategic Dialogue, see this DipNote entry.

Secretary Tillerson Hosts Town Hall Meeting at State Department

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hosts a Town Hall meeting for Department of State employees in Washington, D.C., on December 12, 2017. (State Department photo)

On December 12, Secretary Tillerson addressed Department employees at a town hall meeting. In his remarks, the Secretary looked back at what the State Department and USAID accomplished this year and discussed the redesign effort underway aimed at modernizing the both agencies to accomplish their missions more effectively and efficiently. Secretary Tillerson answered a wide range of audience questions moderated by Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein on topics ranging from employment opportunities to policy issues.

Ambassador Haley Highlights Latest Iranian Malign Activities

On December 14, Ambassador Nikki Haley held a press conference to highlight recent findings in the United Nations 2231 Implementation Report. During her remarks, Ambassador Haley offered “irrefutable evidence” that Iran has deliberately violated its international obligations and unsuccessfully attempted to cover up these violations‎ -- including the manufacture of missile and explosive components used to target civilians in attacks. 

“All of these weapons include parts made in Iran, some by Iran’s government-run defense industry. All are proof that Iran is defying the international community. And not just one time. This evidence demonstrates a pattern of behavior in which Iran sows conflict and extremism in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions,” she said.

For more information on Ambassador Haley’s remarks, see this DipNote entry.

State Department Releases 16th Annual To Walk the Earth in Safety Report

On December 12, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs released the 16th Edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety, a report underscoring the accomplishments of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program. For more than 20 years, the United States has led the international donor community in promoting peace and security worldwide by partnering with nations to reduce the availability of excess, loosely-secured, or otherwise at-risk small arms and light weapons and munitions, as well as to address humanitarian hazards from landmines and unexploded ordnance in post-conflict countries.

 Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDAS) for Political Military-Affairs Tina Kaidanow discussed the report at the Department’s press briefing on December 13, 2017. “Conventional weapons destruction aids partners and friends around the world, but it also advances key U.S. security objectives and helps protect our citizens and our allies from those who would do us harm. For example, our assistance assists partner governments to destroy poorly secured stockpiles of small arms, light weapons, and conventional ammunition that remains at risk of illicit diversion to terrorists, to insurgents, and to other destabilizing actors. And just as critically, after we have destroyed these excess arms, we help our partner governments better secure and manage the stockpiles that they do retain, further reducing the illicit proliferation risks while improving their ability to protect civilians and maintain stability,” PDAS Kaidanow said.

U.S. Announces Additional Humanitarian Assistance to Yemen

On December 12, the United States announced nearly $130 million in emergency food assistance to Yemen. This brings total U.S. humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen to nearly $768 million since October 2016. The United States remains gravely concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation in Yemen, where protracted conflict has led to the world's largest food security emergency and the world's worst cholera outbreak. More than 17 million people are at risk of severe hunger or starvation.

The United States remains committed to supporting the people of Yemen and calls on all parties to the conflict to immediately cease hostilities and re-energize political talks. We also call on all parties to protect civilians, including humanitarian aid workers, who work at great personal risk to deliver life-saving assistance.

U.S. Commemorates International Human Rights Day

Secretary Tillerson released a statement to commemorate International Human Rights Day on December 10.

In commemoration of International Human Rights Day, we renew our commitment to our core democratic values and to advocating for the human rights, freedom, and dignity of all people. The United States urges all nations to respect their commitments enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and apply them equally to all. The world is safer when every person can live up to his or her full potential, and every nation is free from tyranny.

- Secretary Tillerson

U.S. Congratulates NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Position Extension

On December 12, Spokesperson Nauert released a statement commending the NATO Secretary General’s extension for another three years. She stated, “The United States commends NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg for his outstanding service and is pleased to join the other 28 Allies in supporting his extension through September 2020. Secretary General Stoltenberg has been a strong leader who has galvanized the Alliance in many ways. We look forward to a continued excellent relationship.”

Under Secretary Shannon Travels to Vienna for Meetings on JCPOA

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas A. Shannon led the U.S. delegation to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) Joint Commission meeting in Vienna on December 13. Under the terms of the JCPOA, the Joint Commission is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. Participants included all the members of the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union, and Iran.

United States and Cuba Hold Biannual Migration Talks in Washington, DC

The United States and Cuba held the 31st biannual Migration Talks in Washington, DC on Monday, December 11.The delegations discussed the significant reduction in irregular migration from Cuba to the United States since the implementation of the January 2017 Joint Statement. The United States confirmed it met its annual commitment in fiscal year 2017 to facilitate legal migration by issuing a minimum of 20,000 documents under the Migration Accords to Cubans to immigrate to the United States, and raised the need for increased Cuban cooperation in the return of Cubans with final orders of removal from the United States.

U.S. Makes Statements on Venezuela

On December 10, Spokesperson Heather Nauert released a statement condemning Venezuelan President Maduro’s threat to ban opposition parties from participating in next year’s presidential elections. Spokesperson Nauert said, “The Venezuelan people deserve the right to express their views and consent to governance through a free and fair democratic process that is open to all candidates. A presidential election cannot be legitimate if candidates and parties cannot freely participate.”

In a separate statement, Spokesperson Nauert highlighted the United States’ concern regarding on the deteriorating health and welfare of U.S. citizen Joshua Holt, who is under the custody of SEBIN, the Venezuelan intelligence agency. The United States called on the Venezuelan government to grant immediate consular access to Mr. Holt, and renewed its call for Mr. Holt’s immediate release on humanitarian grounds.

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 Medium.