This Week at State: March 15, 2019

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This Week at State: March 15, 2019

Did you miss key foreign policy developments this week? 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 key moments from This Week at State:

U.S. Extends Condolences for Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302

On March 10, Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino released a statement extending deep condolences to the families and friends of those killed in the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo addressed the incident on Twitter and also expressed condolences.

Morocco’s Repatriation of Foreign Terrorist Fighters from Syria

In a statement on March 10, Deputy Spokesperson Palladino commended the Kingdom of Morocco for repatriating eight Moroccan foreign terrorist fighters from Syria.

State Department and USAID Officials Comment on the President’s FY2020 Budget Request

On March 11, President Donald Trump requested $40 billion for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) budget. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo released a statement on this budget request underscoring that it upholds the President’s commitment to protect our country and put American interests first.

Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan, USAID Administrator Mark Green, and experts on the President’s budget request also gave a special briefing to the press on March 11, 2019.

Read more in this DipNote blog.

Venezuela: Secretary Pompeo Gives Update;  U.S. Tightens Sanctions; U.S. Withdraws Personnel From Embassy in Venezuela

On March 11, Secretary Pompeo delivered remarks to the press on the situation in Venezuela, noting the central role that Cuba and Russia have played in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare. The United States has revoked more than 250 visas for individuals responsible for undermining Venezuela’s democracy.

On March 11, the State Department released a media note advising that the United States sanctioned Evrofinance Mosnarbank, a Moscow-based bank jointly owned by Russia and Venezuela. With this action, we are targeting a financial institution involved in facilitating illegitimate transactions that prolong Maduro’s usurpation of democracy.

On March 11, Secretary Pompeo also announced that the United States will withdraw all remaining personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela as a result of the deteriorating situation in Venezuela, and the conclusion that the presence of U.S. diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on U.S. policy. On March 14, Secretary Pompeo released a statement following the departure of these employees.

On March 15, Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams delivered remarks on the departure of U.S. diplomatic staff from the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, the revocation 340 visas of people responsible for undermining Venezuela’s democracy, and other developments regarding Venezuela.

State Department Updates the Cuba Restricted List

On March 11, the State Department made several updates to the Cuba Restricted List, including adding five sub-entities owned by the Cuban military. In accordance with the June 2017 National Security Presidential Memorandum-5, “Strengthening the Policy of the United States Toward Cuba,” the U.S. government generally prohibits direct financial transactions with listed entities and sub-entities because they would disproportionately benefit the Cuban military, intelligence, and security services or personnel at the expense of the Cuban people or private enterprise in Cuba.

Meetings with Global Leaders

On March 11, Secretary Pompeo met with Indian Foreign Secretary Gokhale and with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan at the State Department.

On March 13, Secretary Pompeo met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at the State Department.

On March 14, Secretary Pompeo met with UN Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths, at the Department of State.

Secretary Pompeo Participates in Energy Focused Meetings and Events in Houston, Texas

Secretary Pompeo traveled to Houston, Texas on March 12 to deliver keynote remarks at CERA Energy Week’s “Reshaping the Energy Future” conference. The Secretary focused on what America’s newfound energy abundance means for its foreign policy. The Secretary underscored the Administration’s conviction that America’s interests can be furthered through the tools of diplomacy and outlined three ways we can do this: facilitating investment, promoting energy security by encouraging countries to partner with the United States, and by pushing bad actors – those who use their energy towards malign ends – off the target.

The Secretary participated in a roundtable with international energy firms on advancing the Asia EDGE “Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy” initiative and the energy pillar of the Middle East Strategic Alliance. He also participated in several interviews with local journalists focused on energy and other global issues.

Deputy Secretary Sullivan Travels to South Africa and Angola

Deputy SecretarySullivan traveled to  South Africa and Angola from March 12 to 18, 2019. His visit will focus on promoting U.S. trade and investment, as well as advancing peace and security, including with respect to the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Throughout the trip, the Deputy Secretary affirmed the United States’ longstanding and wide-ranging commitment to Africa as he engages with government officials, representatives from the business community and civil society, youth leaders, and U.S. Mission personnel.

U.S. Welcomes UN Panel of Experts Annual Report on the DPRK

In a statement  on March 12, Deputy Spokesperson Palladino welcomed the release of a report by the UN’s Independent Panel of Experts on the implementation of UN sanctions on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He emphasized that the report provides timely, relevant, and impartial analysis that helps governments around the world to take decisive action and demonstrates the need for continued vigilance against entities involved in DPRK sanctions evasion activity.

U.S. Holds Foreign Office Consultations with India

On March 12, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale and Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Keshav Gokhale held Foreign Office Consultations during which they affirmed the vitality of the U.S.-India strategic partnership and the importance of joint leadership to strengthen the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.

U.S. Announces Funding Support for OPCW Laboratory

In a media note on March 12, the United States announced $7 million in assistance over two years for the construction of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Centre for Chemistry and Technology. The new laboratory will enable the OPCW to enhance investigatory capabilities; to synthesize safely small quantities of chemical weapons agents for research; and, to evaluate and deploy analytical and protective equipment.

Secretary Pompeo Releases the 2018 Human Rights Report

On March 13, Secretary Pompeo delivered remarks on the release of the 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

"The protection of human rights is central to U.S. foreign policy and to our American values. As we release the 43rd Human Rights Reports detailing the human rights practices of nearly 200 countries, we reaffirm our commitment to these fundamental freedoms."

- Secretary Pompeo

Ambassador Michael G. Kozak, Senior Bureau Official in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, also delivered remarks and answered questions on the report’s release.

Read more about the 2018 Human Rights Report in this DipNote blog.

Secretary Pompeo Congratulates His Holiness Pope Francis on Anniversary of His Election

In a statement on March 13, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo congratulated His Holiness Pope Francis on the sixth anniversary of his election to the Holy See of Rome.

“I appreciate his steadfast leadership to promoting peace and advancing religious freedom and human rights around the world... I join millions of Americans in congratulating the Holy Father on this anniversary, and I look forward to continuing the U.S. partnership with the Holy See to address the many challenges our world faces today.”

- Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo

U.S. Co-Hosts Event on Protecting Fundamental Freedoms in Xinjiang, China

On March 13, the United States co-hosted an event with Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom at the United Nations in Geneva to raise awareness regarding ongoing and egregious human rights abuses in Xinjiang, where more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other members of Muslim minority groups have been detained since April 2017.

U.S. Releases Joint Statement on U.S.-India Strategic Security Dialogue

The U.S. Government and the government of India released a joint statement on the occasion of the U.S.-India Strategic Security Dialogue. During the dialogue, which occurred at the State Department on March 13, the two sides exchanged views on a wide range of global security and nonproliferation challenges and reaffirmed their commitment to work together to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems and to deny access to such weapons by terrorists and non-state actors.

U.S. Participates in Fifteenth Global Counterterrorism Forum Coordinating Committee Meeting

On March 13, Coordinator for Counterterrorism Nathan A. Sales represented the United States at the Fifteenth Coordinating Committee Meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF) in Malaga, Spain. Ambassador Sales briefed GCTF members on the activities of the Foreign Terrorist Fighter (FTF) Working Group, urged countries to repatriate and prosecute their FTFs, and called on GCTF members to more equitably share the financial burden of operating the organization.

U.S. Announces the U.S. Humanitarian Assistance in Response to the Syria Crisis

On March 14,  at the Third Brussels Conference on “Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region,” the United States announced more than $397 million in additional humanitarian assistance for the people of Syria as part of the Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan for 2019-2020. This brings U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to the Syria crisis to more than $9.5 billion since the start of the crisis and reflects the steadfast commitment of the United States to providing lifesaving support to the people of Syria impacted by conflict both inside Syria and throughout the region. The U.S. appreciates all donors who have stepped up and continues to encourage both traditional and new donors to help meet growing needs

State Department Comments Escalation of Attacks Against Idlib, Syria

On March 14, Deputy Spokesperson Palladino released a statement expressing grave concern  about escalating violence in recent days in Idlib and neighboring areas prompted by Russian and Assad regime airstrikes and artillery. He said, “Despite Russia’s claims to be targeting terrorists, these operations have caused dozens of civilian casualties and have targeted first responders as they attempt to save lives on the ground. These abhorrent attacks on civilian infrastructure and on settlements for internally displaced people must end now.”

U.S. Joins France, Canada, Germany, and the UK in Recognizing the Eighth Anniversary of the Syrian Conflict

On March 15, the Governments of the United States of America, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom released a joint statement on the Eighth Anniversary of the Syrian Conflict.

 “The military solution the Syrian regime hopes to achieve, with backing from Russia and Iran, will not bring peace. The only way to end the violence and economic hardship as well as to secure a lasting settlement to the conflict is a negotiated political solution. And only a political solution can provide the necessary guarantees for all components of Syrian society as well as for Syria’s neighbors.”

State Department Announces Secretary Pompeo’s Upcoming Travel to Beirut, Jerusalem, and Kuwait City

On March 15, Deputy Spokesperson Palladino announced Secretary Pompeo will travel to Beirut, Jerusalem, and Kuwait City March 19-23. In Beirut, the Secretary will meet with Lebanese leaders to discuss the political, security, economic, and humanitarian challenges facing Lebanon. In Jerusalem, the Secretary will meet with Israeli officials to engage on critical regional issues, including countering the Iranian regime’s malign influence and reaffirming the United States’ unwavering commitment to Israel’s security. In Kuwait City, the Secretary will lead the U.S. delegation at the third U.S.-Kuwait Strategic Dialogue. The dialogue will focus on many areas of growing U.S.-Kuwait bilateral cooperation, including defense, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, strengthening trade and investment ties, and education.

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.