Tillerson: Defeat Terrorism, Then Push for Human Rights; Schiff and Rubio Disagree

By Susan Jones | May 22, 2017 | 6:01am EDT
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace on Sunday, May 21, 2017. (Screen grab from Fox News)

(CNSNews.com) – President Trump talked about defeating terrorism during his visit to Saudi Arabia, but he did not “lecture” the Saudis on human rights.

Why not? Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday,” asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Well, Chris, I think the way you address those human rights issues and women's rights issues is to improve the conditions in the region. And today conditions in the region are under a lot of stress because of the threat of terrorism, the threat that Iran poses to instability in the region.

And these subjects are being discussed as well, and there are efforts under way to, I think, improve the rights of women, the participation of women in society throughout the region.

But, you know, the primary reason we're here today is to confront this threat of terrorism. If we do not defeat Daesh, if we do not defeat these forces of evil, there will be no conditions under which we can even hope to improve the human rights for all of the people in the region.

In a speech to Muslim leaders on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, President Trump said: “We are not here to lecture—we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship. Instead, we are here to offer partnership -- based on shared interests and values -- to pursue a better future for us all.

“Here at this summit we will discuss many interests we share together. But above all we must be united in pursuing the one goal that transcends every other consideration. That goal is to meet history's great test—to conquer extremism and vanquish the forces of terrorism.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Trump delivered the “right message” to the Saudis when he talked about enlisting the Islamic world in the fight against terror.

“But I was also struck by the suggestion, and I think this is a broader element of the administration's policy, that they're going to de-emphasize issues of human rights, that what countries do within their own boundaries, we're essentially going to look the other way. That's not a high priority of ours anymore. The promotion of democracy, the promotion of human rights, is going to take a back seat," Schiff said.

"I think that would be a terrible abdication of our global leadership when it comes to advocating for people who are the subject of persecution, or imprisoned, or journalists that are thrown in jail, or people not allowed to practice their faith. I think it would be a historic mistake for us to walk away from that.”

Schiff told CNN that human rights need to be a top priority for the United States.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” that the United States should be advocating for democracy and freedom and human rights:

“I would tell you that the White House and I have a different approach on the issue of human rights. I'm much more forceful and open and vocal about criticizing whether it's Egypt or Saudi Arabia for its human rights record,” Rubio said. “The White House is convinced they can get better results by addressing those issues in private one on one.

“And, in fairness, you know, there are issues we have raised with the White House. They have then raised it with foreign leaders and have gotten results. Aya Hijazi was released from Egypt, and Sandy Phan-Gillis was released from China. But those are, you know, one case. There are thousands of these cases around the world.

“And so we just have a disagreement on the right way to approach it. And they have their approach, and I have mine.”

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