This Week at State: July 21, 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:

United States Announced New Iran-related Sanctions

The United States remains deeply concerned about Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East, which undermine regional stability, security, and prosperity. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) states the anticipation of its participants that “full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security.” However, Iran’s other malign activities are serving to undercut whatever “positive contributions” to regional and international peace and security were intended to emerge from the JCPOA.

In a press statement released July 18, Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert explained, “In response to these continued Iranian threats, the Administration today announces that it has designated 18 entities and individuals supporting Iran’s ballistic missile program and for supporting Iran’s military procurement or Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as well as an Iran-based transnational criminal organization and associated persons.”

The Administration is continuing to conduct a full review of U.S. policy toward Iran. During the course of this review, the United States will continue to aggressively counter Iran’s malign activities in the region. While the review is ongoing, the United States will also continue to expect strict Iranian adherence to Iran’s nuclear commitments under the JCPOA and look to the International Atomic Energy Agency to continue to monitor and verify all of Iran’s nuclear commitments. Under Secretary Thomas A. Shannon will travel to Vienna, Austria, July 20-22, to lead the U.S. delegation to the Joint Commission meeting of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program. 

Secretary Rex W. Tillerson met with Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah today at the U.S. Department of State to discuss the ongoing situation in the Gulf.  In a statement before their meeting, Secretary Tillerson highlighted positive movement in the discussions.  The Secretary said:

The Qataris have continued to move forward on the MOU that the U.S. and Qatar entered into to address many of the terrorism, terror financing, counterterrorism concerns that people have, and they have been very aggressive in implementing that agreement….

I think they also have indicated a willingness to sit with the four parties and negotiate, discuss the demands. I think they have indicated they think it’s important that the sovereignty and dignity of all five countries be respected in those discussions.

Secretary Tillerson expressed hope that the four countries -- Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt -- will consider as a sign of good faith lifting the land blockade, which is having negative effects on the Qatari people.

In a statement released this week, the United States called on the Government of Venezuela to abandon the proposed National Constituent Assembly and encouraged governments throughout the hemisphere and around the world to call on President Maduro to suspend this process, which only seeks to undermine democracy in Venezuela. Spokesperson Nauert acknowledged in the statement that “millions of Venezuelans’ voices must not be ignored” as news reports stated more than 7 million Venezuelans voted in an unofficial referendum. 

The United States applauds the courage and determination of Venezuelans who exercised their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly in defense of their democracy on July 16. Yesterday’s vote was a massive repudiation of the proposed National Constituent Assembly, which would undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions. The vote by millions of Venezuelans was an unequivocal affirmation in support of free and fair elections as well as respect for the existing constitution.

This week, the State Department released its annual report, Country Reports on Terrorism 2016, which provides the Department’s annual Congressionally-mandated assessment of trends and events in international terrorism. The report provides policy-related assessments and country-by-country breakdowns of foreign government counterterrorism cooperation. It specifically contains information on state sponsors of terrorism, terrorist safe havens, foreign terrorist organizations, and the global challenge of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear terrorism.

In 2016, the report found terrorist groups continued to exploit ungoverned territory and ongoing conflict to expand their reach. ISIS remained the top terrorist threat in 2016, directing and inspiring terrorist cells, networks, and individuals around the world. Al-Qa’ida also remained a resilient and adaptive threat. Iran continued to be the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Terrorist groups supported by Iran – most prominently Hizballah – continued to threaten U.S. allies and interests even in the face of U.S.-led intensification of financial sanctions and law enforcement. The report is available at www.state.gov/j/ct.

The members of the Troika -- Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- and the European Union released a joint statement condemning the continuing violence in South Sudan. The group especially stressed concern about the Government of South Sudan’s current offensive against SPLM-In Opposition forces near Pagak, which is a clear violation of the unilateral ceasefire declared by President Salva Kiir on May 22, and calls into question the government’s commitment to reach peace through the National Dialogue. 

The proliferation of violence, displacement, and food insecurity renders any discussion of elections in the foreseeable future as an unnecessary diversion from the primary goals of achieving peace and reconciliation. South Sudan’s leaders, neighbors, and regional and international partners must first focus on achieving peace in order to create the conditions needed to hold credible elections. To achieve these urgent goals, we look forward to the prompt revitalization of an inclusive and credible peace process by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); such progress would be required in order for the Troika and EU to commit further resources to institutions designed to implement the agreement.

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Editor’s Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.

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