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Europe and Eurasia: Remarks With Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz at a Joint Press Availability

FOREIGN MINISTER KURZ: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you here to Vienna and also to our short press point. I would like to especially welcome the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Thank you very much for being here. Thank you very much for our bilateral meeting and thank you very much that you take place in our OSCE conference, which is a strong signal of support for the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is also a strong signal for positive dialogue in this organization.

During our meeting, we had a chance to discuss the situation in Ukraine. As you know, the conflict in and around Ukraine was also one of the most important issues for us during our chairmanship. Our goal was to improve the living conditions for people, especially in the conflict zone, and I am therefore very thankful that we were able to strengthen the OSCE observer mission there. I would like to thank the U.S., but also all the other countries for their support, which made it possible to improve the situation there, to support the people there. We made it possible to increase the number of observers, and it was also possible to give them better technical equipment.

We also had the opportunity to talk about the necessity of the fight against terrorism and radicalization. We have about 10,000 people who left the OSCE area, joined ISIS, and decided to fight for them in countries like Syria, Iraq, and Libya. We have seen progress in the fight against ISIS in these countries which is extremely positive, and we are happy about that, but it is also necessary to continue the fight against radicalization in our own societies because everybody of these foreign terrorist fighters who returns to our countries is a security threat for us and for our societies.

Besides these international issues, we also had the opportunity to discuss our bilateral relations. I am very thankful that we have excellent bilateral relations between Austria and the U.S., and we are also very thankful that the U.S. is one of our most important trading partners, and I hope that we can even more intensify these relations between the U.S. and Austria.

Thank you very much that you are here today.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister[1], and first allow me to congratulate you on your election and wish you all the success in the formation of your government. We know it’s never easy, but I know you have very strong leadership and we look forward to engaging with the new government that you put in place in a very positive way and continue the very positive relationship that the United States and Austria has enjoyed. Also appreciate your leadership of the OSCE, thank you for that.

As the prime minister indicated, we did touch on several important subjects that are important to the United States and Austria, and I’m going to just lightly touch on those as well as he has.

Both of us remain quite concerned and committed to the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereign territory, and as indicated in my earlier remarks and I have indicated when I was in Brussels at the NATO Summit, Russia’s taking of sovereign territory in Ukraine is something that we will never accept. We appreciate the strong solidarity of European partners in standing up on behalf of Ukraine to restore their sovereign territory to them. We support strongly the presence of the OSCE monitors and the very, very positive and important role they play in Ukraine in moving the process forward. As many of you know, we have been engaged through our special representative working with Russia in the hopes of putting a peacekeeping force in place to protect the monitors.

Regrettably, the United States suffered the death of an American citizen who was serving as one of the OSCE monitors back in April. So we take this quite seriously. These monitors must be allowed to do their work in a safe and secure manner. So we will continue to work with Russia to see if we cannot agree a peacekeeping force that can enter Ukraine, reduce the violence. The violence in Ukraine is up in 2017; more people have died in 2017 than in 2016, and this simply has to stop. It is difficult to move a peace process forward when people are still experiencing this level of violence, and we appreciate the prime minister’s supportive statements on Ukraine as well.

We had a very good discussion on the war against terrorism, in particular violent extremism, and our efforts to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. We appreciate the donor support that Austria has provided in our humanitarian assistance and our stabilization efforts as areas are liberated in Syria and Iraq to allow people to return to their homes, and this is important support and we thank Austria for it. This is a global threat that the world faces in terms of violent extremism, and I think, as the prime minister acknowledged, even a country like Austria is not immune, and we have a long road ahead of us not just to defeat violent extremism on the battlefield, but we must defeat them in the cyber space and in the social media space. This is where they recruit young minds, and we have to disrupt their ability to do so. And we look forward to continuing the very strong cooperation we have through our Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS with many, many of our European partners and partners around the world.

Lastly, we did touch on North Korea, as I wanted to ensure the prime minister understood the United States approach to the North Korean nuclear threat. And not surprisingly, the prime minister very strongly supports our efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, a long-held value of Austria as well as to nuclear weapons. And so I appreciated his strong statement of support in our meeting as well.

We do have important trading relations, even though Austria is a small country, and we both acknowledged that we hope to build on those trade relationships. It’s a very positive relationship today, and we look forward to finding ways to grow the economic activity between our two countries.

But let me also thank the prime minister for granting me the time with him today. It was a very useful meeting and I enjoyed our exchange very much. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Secretary of State. Now we take a few questions. Martina Steiner, go ahead.

QUESTION: Martina Steiner from Austrian television ORF. Minister Kurz, what do you think about Donald Trump recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and what impact could it be for the peace process in the Middle East?

FOREIGN MINISTER KURZ: Well, I think you know our position. Our position here in Austria, but also the position of our partners in the EU is very clear. We think that the final status of Jerusalem should be a result of direct negotiations between two parties there, and I think we should do anything possible to avoid further escalation in the region.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? Mr. Harris, New York Times.

QUESTION: Mr. Tillerson, you referred today to the attempted annexation of Crimea, but much of the world considers this a fait accompli, and sanctions aren’t making Russia budge. It seems as though you’ve got potentially a years-long conflict in front of you, perhaps even sort of a less frigid cold war with Russia in front of you. And can you help us understand how this idea of peacekeepers might get this conflict in Ukraine resolved better?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first I would say any in the world that believes it is a fait accompli would be wrong, that there is no fait accompli. The fact that a country illegally occupies the territory of another does not mean we accept that. Our efforts on the peacekeepers is focused on east Ukraine, the Donbas region, because that’s where the ongoing violence is occurring. Civilians are being killed every day in violent exchange of fire between the two parties. So we want to see that end. Our first priority is to stop the violence in east Ukraine so that we can begin a process of implementing the elements of the Minsk accord that the parties have agreed. So first stop the violence and then press on with the implementation of Minsk in east Ukraine.

In Crimea, again, we do not accept and will never accept that annexation. We don’t have the level of violence going on in Crimea today; we do have a level of human rights violations against certain ethnic groups in Crimea that cause us grave concern in terms of the treatment of Tatars and others. And so we monitor that situation as well.

But today, we focus on east Ukraine because that’s where the level of violence simply has risen. This year, as I indicated, it’s up 60 percent. We have to bring that to an end.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Mr. Vospernik, Austrian Press Agency.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister, (inaudible) Secretary of State has referred to you as prime minister of Austria, and you are stating your intention to host a summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Vienna, but after this (inaudible) still your intention?

And Mr. Tillerson, would you welcome (inaudible) place for dialogue?

FOREIGN MINISTER KURZ: Well, I can only answer as foreign minister for the Republic of Austria. I think that the conference today shows once again that Austria is a good place for dialogue, for international meetings, conferences, and negotiations, and of course we always stand ready for these international meetings if needed. We had the opportunity to talk about Iran and North Korea and also other issues around the world. So whenever it’s needed, Austria will stand ready to be a good place for dialogue like we did it in the past.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Austria has great buildings to host meetings in. (Laughter.) This is why I’ve come.

President Trump and President Putin, as you probably know, have met twice already this year – had a very lengthy meeting on the margins of the G20 in Hamburg earlier, and then had the opportunity to meet on the margins of the APEC meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, here most recently, where a very important joint statement was issued regarding the Syrian peace process. They talk not as often as President Trump speaks with other world leaders, and I think, again, that’s simply a reflection of the strained relationship that exists between the United States and Russia.

And President Trump, as you know, throughout his campaign was very clear that he views it as very important that Russia and the United States have a better relationship, that it is important that countries as powerful as these two nations are should have a more positive relationship. But the issue that stands in the way is Ukraine. We can have differences in other arenas – in Syria; we can have differences in other areas; but when one country invades another, that is a difference that is hard to look past or to reconcile. And we’ve made this clear to Russia from the very beginning that we must address Ukraine. It stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing the relationship with Russia, which we badly would like to do.

MODERATOR: Last question, Tara, ABC News.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Tillerson, you’ve said that “America first” does not mean America alone, but on a number of important issues like climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, and most recently, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the United States is all alone and increasingly isolated. When you come to these meetings, how can you expect other countries to cooperate with the United States when time and time again, the United States ignore the advice of virtually every other country in the world?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first let me say, before I answer that question, this is my seventh trip to Europe this year and I have really enjoyed the time I’ve spent with so many of my counterparts – foreign ministers, foreign secretaries, in Brussels, here at the OSCE; I’m going to Paris tomorrow to have further talks – and all of those engagements have been nothing but positive. So we have a strong relationship with our partners in Europe, one that we value immensely. And I believe they value our exchange of views as well.

On the issues that you list – and it’s always nice to kind of roll out this long list and make it sound like we’re just off in left field – the truth of the matter is we’ve not disengaged from the climate discussions. We continue to participate in COP21. Our team remains engaged to talk about the approaches we think make the most sense on behalf of the American people, and I always remind – and love to remind people everywhere I go – the actual performance of the United States in reducing its carbon emissions relative to its – the size of its economy leads the world. Our emissions have been going down for – since 1991, and we’re far ahead of Europe’s performance, and we didn’t need a lot of rules and conventions to do it. We did it, people did it, because they’re innovators, they’re entrepreneurs, they see an opportunity with the consumer in the United States, and they grab it. And there have been some helpful regulatory regimes in the U.S., like CAFE standards and others, that have supported that.

But to say that we are somehow disengaged from the issue is simply wrong. We remain engaged. Our team continues to meet with all of the parties.

Similarly on Iran, we are still in the Iran nuclear deal. We’ve not left the Iran nuclear deal. We’re continuing very active engagement at the Joint Commission. We are using that agreement and working with our European partners in particular to truly hold Iran accountable to its responsibilities as to its nuclear program, and we are being – yes, we are much more demanding under that agreement than perhaps our predecessors were. Having said that, we also are working very closely with our European partners who recognize and have the same concerns around Iran’s malign activities in the region: the export of weapons that are destabilizing Yemen; the export of weapons that are destabilizing Syria, that are arming Hizballah, a terrorist organization committed to destroying Israel. Iran is carrying out these activities that our European partners do not agree with either.

So we’re in conversations with them about how to maintain our commitments under the nuclear arrangement, which we intend to do, yet begin to hold Iran accountable for these malign activities that are very destabilizing to the security and stability of the region.

So I think this question, this narrative in the question that you laid out is just false.

QUESTION: What about Jerusalem?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: And on Jerusalem, I think here’s the thing I would say to people, is look at the entire contours of what the President said. As you know, there’s a 1995 law in the United States that requires the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and to relocate our embassy. So the President, after many, many reaffirmations by our Senate, including as recently as this past summer – the vote, I think, was 90 to none with 10 abstentions – the President is simply carrying out the will of the American people. The reality is Israel’s government, its courts, its prime minister’s office is all in Jerusalem today, so it is just an acknowledgment of what is the reality on the ground.

As to the move of the embassy, the President has directed me and the State Department to undertake the process to begin an effort to move the embassy. We are not going to be doing that quickly. We have to acquire a site. We have to develop building plans. We’ll have to construct the building. So this is not something that will happen overnight.

So the reality is as you wake up today after this announcement, there’s nothing that’s different other than the President has now implemented the 1995 law. Having said that, he also reaffirmed our strong belief that the status quo of the holy sites must be maintained, which recognizes the rightful role of the various countries around those sites. He also affirmed our support for a two-state solution if that’s what the parties believe they are ready to agree. And he also made a statement regarding the final status of Jerusalem is something that is left for the parties to negotiate.

So this has to do with a U.S. law, a U.S. decision, and every country has a right to decide what it wants to decide as to its embassy in Israel.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Secretary of State. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen for attending the press conference.

[1] Mr. Kurz is the Foreign Minister of Austria.

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