Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged strong U.S. support for the European Union, as he met with officials in Brussels Tuesday.
“The partnership between America and the European Union, I think as everyone knows, is long-standing,” Tillerson said alongside EU’s Federica Mogherini. “It one that is based upon shared values, shared objectives for security and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic, and we remain committed to that.”
The U.S. top diplomat and EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy discussed the Iran nuclear agreement, North Korea’s nuclear threat and cooperation on counterterrorism.
“Our shared objectives in terms of defeating ISIS are important, but not just defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but defeating ISIS globally,” Tillerson said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terror group.”And we certainly see the result of ISIS’ caliphate and its long reign of terror that they have carried out in Iraq and Syria, which is now coming to an end.”
On the Iran nuclear agreement, the secretary said the United States and European Union continue to hold Tehran compliant with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA , while “recognizing that Iran is carrying out a number of other destabilizing activities throughout the region.”
“We also know of Iran’s destabilizing effect of exporting weapons and militia to Syria, an area of conflict, and ongoing support for Hezbollah, a terrorist organization,” Tillerson said. “These issues and activities of Iran cannot be ignored, and cannot go unanswered and we intend to continue to take action to ensure Iran understands this is not acceptable to us.”
For her part, Mogherini said the EU was willing to work closely with the U.S. “on the basis of continued implementation.”
“It was decided that the nuclear deal would be purely on the nuclear issue,” she said, adding that it was unwise to dismantle a deal that the U.N. nuclear agency, the IAEA, has repeatedly certified.
Tillerson’s Europe trip comes just days after U.S. media reported the White House was considering replacing him with CIA chief Mike Pompeo. U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday tweeted that Tillerson was not leaving anytime soon, and Tillerson dismissed the reports as “laughable.”
On Monday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tillerson’s job insecurity speculation was not a distraction, saying the trans-Atlantic alliance “and NATO ministers are able to focus on the core tasks of the job we have to do despite any speculation and rumors.”
Tillerson’s senior advisor R.C. Hammond said the issue of whether the secretary of state still has the administration’s confidence had not come up in any of Tillerson’s conversations with diplomats in Brussels Tuesday. But he acknowledged that foreign ministers had been open about sharing disagreements with the U.S. on various issues.
“Allies have been very frank today in sharing some of their views,” Hammond said. “Dialogues only work if they go two ways.”
During their short meeting Tuesday, Tillerson and Stoltenberg discussed progress toward burden-sharing, with more NATO countries on their way to contributing two percent of their GDP to defense. Hammond said the two men also focused on NATO’s commitment to fighting Islamic State in Iraq, the need for Russia to withdraw from eastern Ukraine, and the role of U.N. peacekeeping forces in Ukraine.
“We really appreciate your strong leadership for so many important issues for the alliance and your iron-clad commitment to NATO and to trans-Atlantic calm and the fact that the U.S. is increasing your presence in Europe,” Stoltenberg told Tillerson. “And NATO is the place where North America meets Europe every day. ”
Tillerson thanked Stoltenberg for his “strong leadership” of NATO.
“Certainly many have stepped up to reaffirm their commitment to the alliance, not just in words but in treasure as well, which as you know is very important to President Trump, to see this alliance fully capable,” the secretary of state said.
From Brussels, Tillerson will travel to Vienna for the annual meeting of the OSCE, with the emphasis on arms control and human rights, and the senior State Department official said, a message of support for Ukrainian sovereignty.
A senior administration official said his final stop will be in Paris “where we have a very special and deep cooperation with the French on a global agenda that encompasses issues on Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, North Korea and Sahel.”