This Week at State: May 19, 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:

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones Briefed the Press on Syria

On May 15, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA) Stuart Jones held a briefing on Syria, where he shared newly declassified information underscoring the continued brutality of the Assad regime. Assistant Secretary Jones said:

“According to the United Nations and credible human rights organizations, the Syrian civil war has claimed more than 400,000 lives, many of which were civilians. The Assad regime’s actions include well-documented airstrikes and artillery strikes; chemical weapons attacks; arbitrary arrests; extrajudicial killings; starvation; sexual violence; and denial of essential services such as food, water, and medical care to the civilian population.”
“The United States is on record, has stated many times, that we are appalled by the atrocities that have been carried out by the Syrian regime. And these atrocities have been carried out seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran.”

Acting Assistant Secretary Jones recently attended the Astana conference in Kazakhstan — led by Turkey, Russia, and Iran as guarantors of the Astana process — where it was agreed to create de-escalation zones that would reduce violence and save lives. Acting Assistant Secretary Jones reiterated the need for the regime to stop all attacks on civilians and opposition forces, and that Russia must bear responsibility to ensure regime compliance. He noted that Russia joined the unanimous UN Security Council Resolution 2254, which demands that all parties immediately cease any attacks against civilians.

Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly Co-hosted the Strategic Dialogue on Disrupting Transnational Criminal Organizations

On May 18, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Secretary of Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly co-hosted a high-level dialogue with their Mexican counterparts on strategies to combat transnational criminal organizations. During the meeting, the leaders discussed strategic approaches to disrupting the business model of the multi-billion dollar transnational criminal organization that bring drugs into the United States and wreak violence across Mexico. The meeting was a direct result of the commitments Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly made during their visit to Mexico City in February to continue the productive dialogue between the two countries on high priority regional issues.

Following their discussions, Secretaries Tillerson and Kelly held a joint press conference with their Mexican counterparts Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray Caso and Secretary of Government Miguel Angel Osorio Chong. Secretary Tillerson said, “We will work with Mexico to refocus assistance on better disrupting the business model of the traffickers. We will attack their means of production, their cross-border distribution networks, their cash flow and their weapons procurement.”

U.S. Department of State Issued a Report on Human Rights Sanctions on Iran

On May 17, the State Department released a semi-annual report to Congress detailing sanctions imposed on persons involved in human rights abuses in Iran. The report cites recent sanctions against the Tehran Prisons Organization and Sohrab Soleimani, the former head of the Tehran Prisons Organization, as required by the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, as amended by the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012.

The United States has grave concerns about Iran’s human rights record, its denial of fundamental freedoms to the Iranian people, and the regime’s arbitrary and malicious detention of Iranian citizens and foreign nationals. This malign conduct represents a severe threat to the Iranian people as well as to international companies looking to do business with Iran whose employees may be subject to harassment, arrest, detainment, torture and even death.

Ambassador Haley Addressed the Situation in North Korea

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley and her counterparts from Japan and South Korea addressed the press on May 16 about the United Nations Security Council Consultations on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (D.P.R.K.).

“This has become more than just a problem; this is a true threat to every country in the world…We have to turn around and tell the entire international community: you either support North Korea, or you support us, because that’s what it comes down to. You are either with North Korea or you are not. And what that means is when we’re talking about sanctions, are these countries putting these sanctions into effect? Are these countries actually following through on the sanctions that they’re supposed to? We want to look at the current sanctions in place, and we want to look at strengthening the sanctions.”

Special Envoy McGurk Provided an Update on the Campaign to Defeat ISIS

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., and Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk provided an update on the campaign to defeat ISIS during a special Pentagon briefing on May 19. In his statement, Special Envoy McGurk said:

Secretary Tillerson to Accompany President Trump on Travel Abroad

Secretary of State Tillerson will accompany President Donald J. Trump on travel to Riyadh, Jerusalem, Rome, and Brussels. President Trump traveled overseas on May 19 for a multi-stop trip during which the President will seek to reaffirm America’s global leadership, continue building key relationships with world leaders, and deliver a message of unity to America’s friends and allies. Visit and follow @WhiteHouse, @StateDept, and #POTUSAbroad for updates.

Follow the State Department on Twitter and Facebook for additional information and updates.

Originally published on May 19, 20117.