This Week at State: 2017 Year-End Edition

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This Week at State: 2017 Year-End Edition

Did you miss key foreign policy developments in 2017? We’ve got you covered with this year-end edition of DipNote. We’re highlighting key foreign policy priorities and decisions from 2017, as we reported them throughout the year.

North Korea

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.

The Campaign to Defeat ISIS

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

U.S. Special Envoy Highlights 2017 Gains in Fight to Defeat ISIS, the Road Ahead

On December 21, Special Presidential Envoy for the Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk discussed the United States’ and the Global Coalition’s efforts this year. 

The Special Envoy commented on the loss of territory that has been under ISIS control, particularly the groundbreaking battle that led to the liberation Raqqa in Syria due to the acceleration of the D-ISIS campaign. 

Special Envoy McGurk also underscored the coalition’s continuing efforts to address the foreign terrorist fighters as well as efforts to counter their finances and messaging. 

South Asia

Secretary Tillerson Discusses Administration’s New Strategy for South Asia

In a Presidential Address to the nation on August 21, President Trump announced a new integrated strategy for the U.S. approach to South Asia that will require diplomatically engaging Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India to create the conditions for stability in the region.

Speaking to the press on August 22, Secretary Tillerson discussed the President’s new strategy. Secretary Tillerson stated that the United States will adopt conditions-based diplomacy in Afghanistan and South Asia -- conditioned by progress made by the Afghan government. 

Secretary Tillerson emphasized that the new strategy will be a regional effort, which also focuses on cooperation with India and Pakistan with the goal of stabilizing Afghanistan as a nation. 

In order for the United States to cooperate with Pakistan, however, he stressed the need for Pakistan to change its approach toward terrorist organizations inside its country. 

Secretary Tillerson concluded his remarks by highlighting what he called “the essence” of the new strategy: facilitating a reconciliation peace process where the Afghan people determine how they want to govern themselves.

Secretary Tillerson Travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India

On October 26, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson concluded a seven-day, seven-country trip to the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. During the trip, Secretary Tillerson addressed a wide-range of bilateral and regional issues, from combatting terrorism to building economic ties.

In AfghanistanPakistan and India, Secretary Tillerson’s meetings with government officials focused on the Administration’s new South Asia strategy.

“As President Trump made clear, achieving peace, stability, and prosperity in Afghanistan requires the involvement of regional partners – most importantly, Pakistan and India. Our goal is to work with our regional partners to root out terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that South Asia can enter a period of peace and prosperity. The road to a stable, sovereign, unified, and democratic Afghanistan requires the Afghan Government to advance their commitment to reform.”

– Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Iran

President Trump Announces New Strategy on Iran

President Donald J. Trump announced a new strategy on Iran on October 13. The new strategy focuses on neutralizing the Government of Iran’s destabilizing influence in the region; revitalizing traditional alliances and regional partnerships; denying funding to the Iranian regime; countering missile threats to the United States and its allies; rallying the international community in condemnation of Iranian human rights abuses; and denying all Iranian paths to a nuclear weapon.  

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson commented on the President’s strategy saying, “To our friends and allies in Europe, I think we have a real opportunity to address all of the threats that are posed by Iran. I think the plan the President has laid out is quite clear.” He added, “I fully expect that our allies and friends in Europe and in the region are going to be very supportive in efforts undertaken to deal with Iran’s threats.”

Israel

United States 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.” 

Yemen

State Department Officials Share Update on the Situation in Yemen

During a press briefing at the Department on December 21, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Arabian Gulf Affairs Timothy Linderking provided an update on the situation in Yemen. 

Deputy Assistant Secretary Linderking’s comments followed Saudi Arabia’s announcement, this week, that the Saudi-led Coalition will open the Yemeni port of Hudaydah to all humanitarian and commercial goods, including fuel, and move cranes funded by the United States to Hudaydah. He also underscored that as the largest humanitarian donor to the people of Yemen, the United States remains committed to alleviating the dire human suffering in Yemen. 

Venezuela

United States Condemns Criminalization of Dissent in Venezuela

On August 30, the United States condemned the call by Venezuela’s illegitimate Constituent Assembly for trials of the political opposition, including members of the democratically-elected legislature, on charges of treason and alleged involvement in Venezuela’s economic crisis. In a statement, Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert emphasized this injustice “embodies yet another rupture in Venezuela’s constitutional order and defies the fact that in democracies, ideas and opinions are not crimes.” 

United States Comments on Situation in 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.” 

Africa

Secretary Tillerson Welcomes African Leaders to Washington, DC, for Discussions on Trade, Security, and Governance in Africa

On November 17, Secretary Tillerson invited Foreign Ministers from across the African continent, including African Union Commission leadership for high level discussions on multilateral issues concerning trade and investment, security, and good governance. In remarks at the ministerial meetings, the Secretary underscored, “Our aim today is to expand and enrich the United States’ relationship with Africa along three fronts that we’re going to be discussing today: promoting trade and investment; encouraging good governance; and countering terrorism.”

Indo-Pacific

President Trump Concludes Trip to Asia

On November 15, President Trump delivered remarks on his recent trip to Asia, during which he visited Japan, the Republic of Korea, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Secretary Tillerson accompanied the President on his trip and joined the President for meetings with dozens of foreign leaders, as the President participated in three formal state visits and attended three key regional summits. It was the longest visit to the region by an American President in more than a quarter of a century. This trip underscored the United States’ commitment to longstanding alliances and partnerships, and reaffirmed United States leadership in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

NATO

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.”

Thanks to our DipNote readers for following along in 2017. We look forward to a great 2018!

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

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Today, the United States Senate confirmed Philip Goldberg, Charge d'Affaires ad interim at the United States Embassy in Cuba, David Hale, United States Ambassador to Pakistan, Michele Sison, United States Ambassador to Haiti, and Daniel Smith, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, as Career Ambassadors. According to the Foreign Service Act of 1980, the President is empowered with the advice and consent of the Senate to confer the personal rank of Career Ambassador upon a career member of the Senior Foreign Service in recognition of especially distinguished service over a sustained period. There have only been 59 Career Ambassadors confirmed prior to 2018. In recognition of this honor, we congratulate the Ambassadors and invite you to learn more about them. Philip Goldberg