U.S. Department of State
Department Press Briefing
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Briefer: Spokesperson Morgan Ortagus
MS ORTAGUS: Okay. I’ve got a few things to start off today, and then we’ll jump right in. Good to see you again. Okay.
Today the United States designated three senior Hizballah political and security officials – Amin Sherri, Muhammad Ra’d, and Wafiq Safa. They have assisted the Iranian regime in its efforts to undermine Lebanese sovereignty. These officials have exploited their positions to smuggle illicit goods into Lebanon, undermining Lebanese financial institutions to assist Hizballah and to evade U.S. sanctions against Hizballah facilitators and financiers.
Today’s designations are a part of the United States effort to counter Hizballah’s corrupting influence in Lebanon and to support Lebanon’s stability, prosperity, and sovereignty. The United States maximum pressure campaign against Iran and its proxies, Hizballah chief among them, already – has already succeeded in limiting the financial support Hizballah receives from the Iranian regime, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. As a result, this designated terrorist organization has been forced to take unprecedented austerity measures. In March 2019, for the first time ever, Hizballah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah made a public appeal for financial support.
As these designations demonstrate, any distinction between Hizballah’s political and military wings is artificial, a fact that Hizballah itself acknowledges. Accordingly, we continue to call on our allies and partners to designate Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization.
MS ORTAGUS: It’s my turn. (Laughter.)
Okay. The United States congratulates Ambassador Reema bint Bandar on being the first woman appointed to serve as an ambassador of Saudi Arabia. She presented her credentials to the State Department on July 3rd and participated in a credentialing ceremony yesterday at the White House, beginning her new role as Saudi ambassador to the United States. We look forward to building upon the strong U.S.-Saudi partnership and working with the ambassador on many important bilateral and regional issues, including countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activity, ending the conflict in Yemen, and advancing human rights.
We also warmly welcome His Highness Qatari Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to the United States. The President met with the amir a short while ago, and the Secretary will meet with him tomorrow. Qatar is a highly valued strategic partner and friend of the United States.
The Secretary visited Doha in January to lead the U.S. delegation at the second U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue, during which we collaborated on regional security and defense cooperation, education and culture, law enforcement and counterterrorism partnerships, commercial and energy cooperation, and labor issues. We are building upon that dialogue and look forward to discussing these and other important areas of bilateral cooperation during the amir’s visit. We will also discuss critical regional priorities, including Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities, and the need for a united GCC on these and many other regional issues. We look forward to further deepening the U.S.-Qatar strategic relationship and advancing our cooperation.
And one more: David R. Stilwell will visit Japan, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea, and Thailand July 10th through the 21st in his first trip as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. He will visit Tokyo July 11th through the 14th to meet senior officials from the ministry of foreign affairs, the ministry of defense, and the national security council to coordinate efforts on regional and global issues and to deepen the U.S.-Japan alliance in pursuit of our shared vision for the Indo-Pacific region.
In Manila on July 15, 16, Assistant Secretary Stilwell, along with Assistant Secretary of Defense Randall Schriver, will lead the U.S. delegation to the eighth U.S.-Philippines Bilateral Strategic Dialogue or BSD. The BSD is the principal forum for discussing the broad spectrum of U.S.-Philippines cooperation, including defense, economics, rule of law, and regional diplomacy.
On July 17th, Assistant Secretary Stilwell will continue his consultations in Seoul, meeting with top ministry of foreign affairs and Blue House officials to discuss further strengthening the alliance and enhancing U.S.-ROK cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region.
Assistant Secretary Stilwell will conclude his trip in Bangkok July 18, 19, where he will engage with officials from the ministry of foreign affairs and the office of the prime minister on bilateral priorities and Thailand’s year as chair of ASEAN. He will also meet business leaders in the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.
QUESTION: In the op-ed that the Secretary wrote in The Wall Street Journal that appeared yesterday, he talked —
MS ORTAGUS: Oh, and just to be clear, by the way, it’s called the Commission on Unalienable Rights.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. He talked about how the commission was created in part to examine new categories of rights, and he said that interest groups are creating new rights, there’s “loose talk” of new rights. Could you give us some sense of what —
MS ORTAGUS: Loose – yeah, what that is?
QUESTION: — rights he was referring to, the sort of new categories of rights that —
MS ORTAGUS: Sure. Listen, I think when you start to look around the world, and you look at how authoritarian regimes have subverted human rights, when you look at the UN, the Human Rights Commission, and sort of how in many ways it’s become a laughingstock, one of the reasons that we withdrew – look at what China produced on December 12th. The Chinese produced a white paper on human rights. It talked about 40 years of reform as it relates to human rights. That’s obviously something that we would take issue with. Mohammad Zarif – I don’t remember the exact date, but sometime within the past year has called himself a human rights professor. He may think he is, but I think there’s a lot of people in the human rights community that would have a problem with him using that label.
We certainly remember – I mean, not necessarily – maybe within the beginning of my lifetime, but we remember the Soviet Union used to talk about human rights. And you see – we talk about this actually quite extensively in the Human Rights Reports. Ambassador Brownback, who we just had up here a few weeks ago, was talking to all of you about his International Religious Freedom Report.
So we have seen troubling examples around the world, again, of these authoritarian regimes subverting this human rights context.
And so I think it’s important to note here – and I don’t want to really go too far beyond what the Secretary said and what he wrote, because I think that those pieces certainly speak to themselves – but we think unalienable rights are the ultimate individual right. They are something that every community enjoys, and we really want to – part of this commission, which is going to be very public, by the way – nothing’s going to be hidden, all of you can feel free to attend and can have the readouts. This is something that all of Washington and all of the world can enjoy. But we are going to use this to really ground our understanding of human rights. And this philosophical debate is incredibly important because of how we see these authoritarian regimes subverting human rights around the world.
QUESTION: So is this – it’s directed then more at authoritarian regimes and concepts of human rights outside the United States? I mean, as I know you’re obviously aware, when this commission was set up earlier, there was a lot of concern about the use of quote-unquote “natural law,” and there was some criticism that this would be aimed at curtailing rights in the U.S., like marriage equality, right to an abortion —
MS ORTAGUS: I think if you – again, if you go back and reread what the Secretary said in his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal and also what he said here at the podium, what you’re referring to are political rights granted by governments. That’s not what this commission is about. The Secretary actually had talked about how he has studied human rights; it’s something very personal to him.
And again, we think that human rights are a bipartisan issue. This is not a commission that is set out to create new policy on human rights. That’s not the point of this. Nor, if you look at the people who we mentioned, who we announced yesterday that will be a part of the commission, you can see that this is not a partisan political exercise about rights granted by government. So we’ll all have to take a breather and get outside of the day-to-day politics in Washington, because that’s not what this is about.