First Published: 2017-02-17

US backs political solution in Syria claim allies
New Secretary of State Tillerson assures allies at G20 meeting that Washington backs political solution to Syrian conflict while insisting no military cooperation with Russia.
Middle East Online

Meeting of 'like-minded' nations

BONN - US allies said they had won assurances Friday from new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Washington backed a political solution to the Syria conflict, ahead of UN-led peace talks.

Tillerson used a G20 gathering in Germany to hold a series of meetings with his global peers, reviewing crises from North Korea to Ukraine at a time of great uncertainty over President Donald Trump's "America First" strategy.

Washington's top diplomat joined a group of countries who support the Syrian opposition for talks on a way to end the nearly six-year war.

"All the participants want a political solution because a military solution alone won't lead to peace in Syria," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters in Bonn, adding that "Tillerson became very involved in the debates".

The meeting of the so-called "like-minded" nations -- made up of around a dozen Western and Arab countries as well as Turkey -- was the first since President Donald Trump took office.

Diplomats had said before the talks that they were hoping for clarity on whether there had been a change in US policy on Syria, particularly on the future of President Bashar al-Assad.

The meeting came ahead of a new round of United Nations-led talks in Geneva on February 23 involving Syrian regime and rebel representatives.

Under Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, Washington insisted Assad had to go, putting it at odds with Moscow which has launched a military intervention in support of the Syrian leader.

But Trump has called for closer cooperation with Moscow in the fight against the Islamic State jihadist group in Syria, downplaying what happens to Assad.

- 'No parallel negotiations' -

With Russia's sway in the conflict growing, it has seized the initiative by hosting separate peace talks in Kazakhstan along with Turkey, brokering a fragile six-week-old truce on the ground.

Gabriel said the "like-minded" countries had agreed to step up pressure on Russia to back a political solution and reaffirmed there could be no alternative to the UN-led Geneva talks.

"There should not be any parallel negotiations," he said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, speaking alongside Gabriel, said a key stumbling block was Russia's insistence to consider all opposition groups as "terrorists".

A Western diplomatic source said Tillerson had stated clearly in the meeting that "there would be no military cooperation with Russia until they distance themselves from Damascus's stance on the opposition."

The former ExxonMobil boss, who kept a low profile and steered clear of press conferences, reassured allies by sticking close to conventional US foreign policy.

In his first one-on-one with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Tillerson pressed Beijing to help rein in North Korea after its series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Tillerson "urged China to use all available tools to moderate North Korea's destabilising behaviour," acting US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The talks marked the highest level China-US encounter yet after the two powers got off to a rocky start under Trump.

The US billionaire initially angered Beijing by questioning Washington's decades-old "One China" policy.

Wang only agreed to go to Bonn after a conciliatory phone call between Trump and President Xi Jinping in which the US president backtracked and reaffirmed the position that Taiwan is not separate from China.

- 'Reassurance' -

With the White House embroiled in controversy over its ties to the Kremlin, Tillerson was cautious in his dealings with Moscow, signalling there would be no immediate rapprochement despite Trump's pledges to take a softer line despite the unresolved Ukraine crisis.

Following his first sitdown with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, Tillerson said the US sought cooperation with Moscow only when doing so "will benefit the American people".

After the G20 on Friday, the politics moves to the high-profile Munich Security Conference where US Vice-President Mike Pence will make his international debut.

"He's going to reassure our allies of our commitment to our European partners and the reassurance for the transatlantic alliance," a senior White House adviser said.

In a speech on Saturday, Pence is expected to confirm Washington's support for NATO while pressing member states to follow through on pledges to share more of the defence spending burden.

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

Turkey in shock after violent Istanbul derby

Iraq pays first war reparations to Kuwait since 2014

Fiery kites adopted as new tactic by Gaza protesters

Romanian president slams plan to move Israel embassy

Western strikes on Syria bring no change whatsoever

Trump criticises OPEC for high oil prices

Syria says rebels south of capital surrender

Market has capacity to absorb higher oil prices: Saudi minister

Putin 'ready' for Trump summit

Saudi Arabia to host first public film screening

HRW criticises Lebanon for evicting Syria refugees

Saudi says intercepted ballistic missile from Yemen

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire