Allies seek strategy after US hit on Syria

Allies seek strategy after US hit on Syria

Sevil Erkuş - ANKARA
Allies seek strategy after US hit on Syria

AFP photo

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven and other allies in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) will meet in Italy on April 11 to design a joint common strategy after Washignton directly engaged Syrian government forces for the first time during the latter’s six-year civil war.

The meeting, which will convene on the second day of a G-7 foreign ministers’ gathering and include Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, has acquired greater urgency after a chemical attack on a rebel-held Syrian town last week killed at least 87 civilians, prompting the United States to fire cruise missiles at a Syrian air base in retaliation early on April 7.

The U.S. move was welcomed by allies but Iran and Russia, the two main countries that lend suport to the Bashar al-Assad government, strongly reacted. 

Foreign ministers from the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan and their counterparts from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Qatar will seek to draw up strategy to put pressure on Russia to end its support for al-Assad while averting a dangerous military escalation Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said Europe’s broad support for the U.S. military strikes contributed to a “renewed harmony” between the U.S. and its partners.

British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson canceled a scheduled visit to Moscow on April 10, saying his priority was now “to continue contact with the U.S. and others” ahead of Tillerson’s Russian trip.

The U.S. military action restored the world’s focus on al-Assad’s fate and Syria’s civil war. Washington has sent mixed signals about whether it shares its allies’ determination that al-Assad must be removed from power. After the chemical attack, U.S. President Donald Trump said his attitude toward al-Assad “has changed very much,” while Tillerson said “steps are underway” to organize a coalition to remove him from power.

However, on a round of television interviews that aired on April 9, Tillerson said the top U.S. priority in the region remained the defeat of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The chemical attack sent a new chill through relations between the West and Moscow, which denies that Syrian forces used chemical weapons in the attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province. Russia was kicked out of the club of industrialized nations, formerly the G-8, after its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and assistance for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. The meeting in the Tuscan walled city of Lucca comes at a moment when the U.S. is sending a Navy carrier strike group toward the Korean Peninsula.

Çavuşoğlu conducted a telephone conversation with Tillerson on April 10 before the G-7 meeting, as well as Tillerson’s meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Çavuşoğlu and Tillerson discussed developments in Syria, the struggle against ISIL, the political solution process in Syria and the situation surrounding al-Assad, Foreign Ministry officials told the Hürriyet Daily News.