Arabs back anti-ISIL statement as Turkey abstains
JEDDAH / ANKARAKey Arab allies of the United States agreed Sept. 11 to "do their share" to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), promising to take action to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and possibly to join military action.
NATO member Turkey refused to join its Arab neighbors in their public pledge, however, signaling the struggle the West faces in trying to get front-line nations to set aside political feuds and work together against a common enemy, according to the Associated Press.
The announcement followed a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his regional counterparts in the Saudi Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah. His visit, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was aimed at pinning down regional allies on what support they are willing to give to U.S. plans to beat back the ISIL, which has seized large chunks of Iraq and Syria.
In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Kerry noted the "particularly poignant day" for the discussions - the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
"The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and so many of our friends and allies around the world," Kerry said. "Those consequences are felt every day here in the Middle East."
The meeting ended with Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon pledging in a joint statement to stand against terrorism. They promised steps including stopping fighters and funding, repudiating the ISIL's ideology, providing humanitarian aid and "as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign."
They also agreed to boost support for the new Iraqi government as it tries to unite its citizens in the fight against the militants, and discussed strategies to "destroy" the group "wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria."
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said coalition members agreed to share responsibilities for fighting the ISIL, as well as to "be serious and continuous in our action to eliminate and wipe out all these terrorist organizations."
ISIL still holds 49 Turkish citizens in Mosul
Turkey also attended the meeting but did not sign the final communique.
The NATO ally had been asked to secure its borders to prevent oil smuggling out of Iraq and Syria and keep foreign fighters from heading in. But Ankara has been reluctant to take a prominent role in the coalition, in part out of concern for the 49 Turkish citizens who were kidnapped from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when it was overrun by ISIL fighters in June.
Sources told Hürriyet that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who represented Turkey in Jeddah, called Ankara when he noticed that the joint statement included a strong call for military action against ISIL. After Ankara opposed the remarks by citing its concerns regarding the Turkish hostages, Çavuşoğlu left Jeddah without signing the document.
A senior State Department official predicted the U.S. will continue to work with Turkey to repel the insurgents’ threat, and said Ankara is in a difficult position as it tries to protect the hostages. The official was not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations by name and spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Greater regional support is seen as key to combating the spread of the ISIL, which has proved so ruthless that even al-Qaida severed ties with it earlier this year. Nearly 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the group.
President Barack Obama on Sept. 10 laid out a long-term U.S. strategy that would include expanding airstrikes against ISIL fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants.
Some Gulf states could in theory take an active role in helping with airstrikes, as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar did in the U.S.-led aerial campaign over Libya in 2011 that helped lead to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. Gulf nations could also assist with arms, training, intelligence and logistics.
Saudi Arabia’s willingness to host the meeting is significant given the OPEC kingpin’s role as a political and economic heavyweight and its custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites.
Calls for a media campaign against extremism
Another senior State Department official, who was not authorized to be named while briefing reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters ahead of the Saudi meeting that Kerry would ask Mideast countries to encourage government-controlled media and members of the religious establishment to speak out against extremism.
Squabbling among Washington’s allies in the region has complicated efforts to present a united front to beat back the militants.
Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt are at odds with Qatar and Turkey because of the latter two countries’ support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the region.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, emphasized that rift in his opening remarks, saying regional chaos is the result of a number of factors, including the tolerance of some in the region and the West with "so-called political Islam" - a clear dig at supporters of the Brotherhood.
American officials have voiced concerns too about Kuwait’s and Qatar’s willingness to crack down on private fundraising for extremist groups.
Salman Shaikh, the director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said the Sept. 11 meeting was important because it signaled a U.S. reengagement in the region - something many Mideast allies feel has been lacking under the Obama administration.
"How the U.S. can play this role will be absolutely crucial," he said. "It has to act as a keen leader for its friends and allies, but also act as a referee between Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, particularly when it comes to the issue of Iraq and the issue of Syria."
The U.S. already has launched more than 150 airstrikes against militants in Iraq over the past month, and has sent military advisers and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including an additional $48 million announced Sept. 10.
The Mideast diplomatic push comes ahead of a conference set for Sept. 15 in Paris on how to stabilize Iraq. That meeting will include officials from the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China, and could also include other nations - possibly even Iran.