Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the “next steps on the global war to defeat ISIS are to recognize ISIS is a global issue,” at an August 1 press availability. He provided an update on “where things stand” around the world after six months in his position. Tillerson discussed the fight against ISIS and the State Department’s primary role on the ground. He also spoke about U.S.-Russia relations in countering the Islamic State and expanded on U.S. efforts to defuse the Gulf Crisis. The following are excerpted remarks arranged by subject.

ON WORKING WITH RUSSIA TO COUNTER ISIS
 

We have explored in the early days one area of mutual interest, which is terrorism. Now, we’ve chosen the theater in Syria as a place in which we test our ability to work together. We share the common view of ISIS as a threat to both of our countries, and so we are committed to the defeat of ISIS, Daesh, other terrorist organizations, and then we are committed to the stability of Syria following the battle to defeat ISIS. Clearly, Russia has aligned itself early on in the conflict with the Syrian regime and Bashar al-Assad, which we find to be unacceptable. So we’re working with Russia through how do we achieve the end state, which is a unified Syria – not divided – but a Syria that is – has the opportunity for the Syrian people to put in place a new constitution, have free and fair elections, and select a new leadership. And it continues to be our view that the Assad regime has no role in the future governing of Syria. The sequencing of all of that we’re open to, as long as that is the – that’s what is achieved at the end.

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So we’re working with the Russians. We’ve achieved one small measure of success by establishing working in concert with Jordon to create a de-escalation zone, a zone of ceasefire, in the southwest part of Syria, which thus far is holding. I think the achievement out of this is civilians are not getting killed, and that was our objective, is to stop the massive bombing attacks and artillery attacks that have led to so many civilian deaths. It is our hope that this first zone of de-confliction will hold with the Russians’ assistance and the Russian – the Russians delivering on their commitments, and that we can find ways to replicate this in other areas in particular in the north – northern part of Syria as we continue to liberate areas from ISIS.

 

ON ISIS AND AL QAEDA
 

 

So I want to turn to the Middle East and, again, the destruction of radical Islamist terrorism in the form of ISIS or Daesh but also in the form of al-Qaida and the many other names that all of you know. The coalition’s integrated civilian and military efforts, I think, have achieved remarkable success since President Trump came into office. He made some very significant shifts in military authorities to put battlefield command decisions closer to the fight, and I think the results are quite evident. More than 70 percent of Iraqi territory that was once held by ISIS has been liberated and recovered. ISIS has been unable to retake any territory that it has been – that has been liberated, and almost 2 million Iraqis have returned home. And this is really the measure of success, I think, is when conditions are such that people feel like they can return to their homes.

The liberation of Mosul has really broken an ISIS stronghold, as you all know, in Iraq. It would not have been possible without the strong cooperation of the Iraqi Government. And these battles have been fought by the Iraqi military and their soldiers with our advisors helping them. The State Department’s role in this has been to follow very quickly as areas are liberated with humanitarian assistance and with efforts at stabilization. So that means securing areas so people feel safe to go home, securing them with local law enforcement – faces they recognize are wearing the police uniforms in their communities, bringing back into the community the previous local leaders who fled when ISIS came in, restoring fundamental needs to the community – power, water, sewage.

That’s where we stop. We get the essentials in place. We’re not there to rebuild their communities. That’s for them to do and that’s for the international community to marshal the resources to allow them to do that. We liberate the areas, we secure the areas, we restore essential needs so people can begin to move back in, and we consider our task – at that point, our mission’s largely been achieved.

Similarly, over in Syria, we’re assisting with the liberation of Raqqa, which is moving at a faster pace than we originally anticipated. However, all of us, I think, are clear-eyed and understand that even there, that battle will hit a core resistance, and it’ll be a very tough fight to ultimately liberate all of Raqqa.

But again, we’re taking the same approach. We’ve pre-staged humanitarian assistance. We’ve pre-staged equipment so that as areas are liberated people can immediately begin to move back in and retake their community and rebuild their lives. So we will replicate the success we’ve had in Mosul and Raqqa, as we’ve done in other communities as well.

We’ve accomplished a lot of this through this grand coalition to defeat ISIS that was convened. It now consists of 68 countries and five international agencies. We convened that coalition here in March to lay out this plan of how we wanted to attack the liberation areas as those areas are freed up. We were able to raise more than $2 billion of commitments from the coalition. That money has shown up as we need it. We are not resource-limited in these efforts that I described to you. So we basically have raised three dollars for every one that we’ve put in of the U.S.’s money. We’re going to continue those efforts. And we had another round of talks here in the last month around Raqqa and are beginning to collect pledges and revenues to replicate that in Raqqa.

I think our next steps on the global war to defeat ISIS are to recognize ISIS is a global issue. We already see elements of ISIS in the Philippines, as you’re aware, gaining a foothold. Some of these fighters have gone to the Philippines from Syria and Iraq. We are in conversations with the Philippine Government, with Indonesia, with Malaysia, with Singapore, with Australia, as partners to recognize this threat, try to get ahead of this threat, and help them with training – training their own law enforcement capabilities, sharing of intelligence, and provide them wherewithal to anticipate what may be coming their direction.

This is a battle that’s going to go on for a long time, and this is the battlefield on the ground. The second battlefield is in the cyberspace, social media space, and the disruption of the messaging that allows ISIS and Daesh to attract new recruits to their cause. So this is also a fight that will go on for months and years ahead.

In Syria, I think if we think about Syria post the defeat of ISIS, what we are hoping to avoid is an outbreak of the civil war, because we really, as you know, have two conflicts underway in Syria: the war against ISIS, the civil war that created the conditions for ISIS to emerge. Again, we’re working closely with Russia and other parties to see if we can agree a path forward on how to stabilize Syria in the post-ISIS world, create zones of stabilization and lines of de-confliction that will hold, and then create conditions for the political process to play out in Geneva. We still support the Geneva process as a means of engaging the parties on the future of Syria’s governance. A lot of work ahead of us, and we don’t have the conditions yet in place to achieve that, but we are going to work with others – the neighbors in the region as well as those stakeholders in Syria – to see if we cannot create those conditions that will lead to talks in Geneva and elsewhere to put in place a longer-term solution for Syria.

And again, in the – I think in this region of the world I want to recognize Ambassador John Bass in Turkey. Turkey has a big role to play in this. As you know, our relationship with Turkey is a bit under stress as well, and Ambassador Bass has been most helpful and remarkable in how he’s led our efforts there in Ankara. I also want to acknowledge Brett McGurk, special envoy to the war against ISIS, and his assistant, number two, Terry Wolff. They are the people on the ground in Syria near the fight, checking to see if this aid is showing up the way it’s supposed to and are we meeting our commitments to restore some of the basic needs of the communities.

 

ON THE GULF CRISIS
 

As you also know, following that summit, though, there was a dispute broke out between three of the Gulf nations – four of the Gulf nations and Egypt. Qatar and what we call “the Quartet” have differences which have led to actions against Qatar. We are quite concerned about this dispute, because we think it is destabilizing to the Gulf itself and undermines unity in the GCC, the Gulf Cooperative[1] Council, which we believe is an important organization to maintain stability in the region.

We have been engaged working with the emir of Qatar[2], who has taken on the effort to mediate this dispute, as you know, from the day it broke out. You’re well aware I made a trip to the region, spent three pretty intensive days with the parties, and I think those were useful. We’re going to continue those efforts. I have maintained telephone contact with all of the parties on a – on an almost every other day basis, talking to them about the current situation.

We know there is a great deal of reconciliation that has to occur. At this point today, the parties are not even speaking to one another. So our objective is to not only have them start talking to one another but to sit down at the table and begin a discussion of dialogue.

An important part of that trip, you’ll recall, when I was in the region was to sign a memorandum of understanding between the United States and Qatar to address terrorism, counterterrorism, terror financing, and the identification of known or suspected terrorists. We are implementing that agreement. Qatar is fulfilling its commitments to us under that agreement, and I think that will be important to building confidence within the region as well.

I am going to be dispatching Assistant Secretary[3] Tim Linderking back to the area. Tim’s been with me from the beginning of this issue, traveled with me to the region. He is going to be traveling over there. And I’ve also asked retired General Anthony Zinni to go with Tim so that we can maintain a constant pressure on the ground, because I think that’s what it’s going to take. There’s only so much you can do with telephone persuasion. But we are committed to see this disagreement resolved, restore Gulf unity, because we think it’s important to the long-term effort to defeat terrorism in the region.

Click here to read Secretary Tillerson’s full remarks.