The U.S. Secretary of State listed promoting international religious freedom and fighting abortion as among U.S. foreign policy priorities in a Tuesday speech on diplomacy.
In his remarks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mentioned the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department in July, with religious leaders and survivors of religious persecution from all over the world in attendance as well as delegations from more than 100 countries.
He also spoke about a joint statement of the U.S. and 20 other countries at a recent meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, “rejecting the claim that abortion is a human right.”
Secretary Pompeo addressed the conservative Heritage Foundation’s President’s Club meeting on Tuesday, at the Marriott Marquis in Washington, D.C.
During his speech on “Trump Administration Diplomacy: The Untold Story,” Pompeo outlined the administration’s foreign policy priorities such as pressuring Iran to curb its nuclear program. Pompeo said that Iran was “the aggressor, not the aggrieved” in the Middle East.
Pompeo also addressed the recent controversy over President Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops away from the Turkey-Syria border. The White House had announced the troop withdrawal as Turkey was beginning a “long-planned operation” into Syria with the stated aims of repelling Kurdish forces in Syria perceived to be a threat to Turkish security, and creating a space within Syria in which to house 2 million Syrian refugees now living in Turkey.
The U.S. ultimately ceded responsibility to Turkey for ISIS militants in the area who had been captured in the previous two years. There have been reports of hundreds of detainees with links to ISIS escaping from camps in the region; around 950 ISIS supporters reportedly escaped one displacement camp in Northern Syria on October 13.
The advocacy group In Defense of Christians warned that the Turkish invasion could prove perilous for around 40,000 Christians in Northeast Syria. On October 14, Trump announced economic sanctions on Turkey for its invasion of Syria.
Pope Francis, in his October 13 Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square, prayed for “beloved and tormented Syria” and “the people of the country’s northeast, who are forced to abandon their houses because of military actions.” He called for the international community to undertake “the path of dialogue to seek effective solutions.”
“It is a complicated story to be sure. The success of the outcome there is not yet fully determined,” Pompeo said on Tuesday.
During a question-and-answer portion of his appearance with Heritage’s executive vice president Kim Holmes, Pompeo explained in greater detail the administration’s strategy in promoting religious freedom.
The U.S. has a “selfish interest” in promoting religious freedom around the world, he said, because “nations that have more religious liberty tend to view the world much closer to the way the United States views the world.”
Pompeo said that his goal is to ensure U.S. ambassadors and embassy staff are trained to promote freedom of religion, saying that “if you travel to visit a U.S. embassy and meet someone on our team, an ambassador or whomever, I would have failed as a leader if they don’t understand that this is a real priority for this administration.”
The administration has even worked to hold U.S. allies accountable on religious freedom in the agency’s annual human rights report, Pompeo said. For example, the State Department’s 2018 report noted abuses in Saudi Arabia including “unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents.”
“We identify every single incident where we found some violation of human rights. So we do it; we list our friends,” Pompeo said.
Other countries “are watching what we’re doing,” he said, “they’re watching how America does this. They’re watching how President Trump addresses this set of issues. And I am convinced that the work we’re doing will enhance religious freedom for millions and millions of people around the world.”
Pompeo was also asked about the creation of an advisory commission to the State Department on human rights.
He answered that he had long been interested in human rights since he studied just war theory as a soldier, and that his interest was influenced by his evangelical Christian faith.
When he entered the State Department in 2018, however, Pompeo said he saw a lack of “clarity” and “grounding” in human rights at the agency.
The aim of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, he said, is to “lay down with clarity not only what these human rights are, these fundamental rights are, but from what it is they are derived, how we got there.” The commission will examine human rights in light of the Declaration of Independence and the UN’s 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights.
“When you see Venezuela get on the Human Rights Council at the UN, it cries out for a re-examination of these fundamental first principles,” Pompeo said.
The U.S. issued a critical statement in light of Venezuela’s election last week to the UN’s Human Rights Council. Mauritania, a country where slavery is still reportedly practiced, was also elected to the Human Rights Council.
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