PARIS (Reuters) - Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will give an outline of the United States’ strategy to stabilise Syria and push ahead with a political solution when he holds talks with close allies in Paris on Tuesday, Western and Arab diplomats said.
Tillerson will first attend a meeting hosted by France on an initiative to target those responsible for chemical attacks, largely in Syria. He then holds informal consultations on the Syrian strategy with a smaller group of foreign ministers from key allies - Britain, France, Germany, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
“We’ll know more later, but Tillerson will present a paper on Syria,” said a Middle Eastern diplomat.
This month Tillerson signalled an open-ended U.S. military presence in Syria as part of a broader strategy to prevent Islamic State’s resurgence and pave the way for the eventual departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
In the speech he called for “patience” on Assad’s departure - the clearest indication yet of U.S. acceptance that Russia and Iran have bolstered Assad and that he is unlikely to leave power immediately. Tillerson said the U.S. strategy would focus on diplomatic efforts.
It was not clear how detailed Tillerson’s presentation would be or whether it would be form a basis to approach Russia, a key backer of Assad, which will host a Syrian peace congress in Sochi on Jan 29-30.
The foreign minister of Turkey, which has launched a major military offensive targeting Kurdish YPG forces in northwest Syria, will attend the chemical weapons meeting but was not due to join the consultations on Washington’s Syrian strategy.
Ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States have become badly strained over a number of issues, including U.S. support for the YPG, which Ankara sees as a security threat.
At the meeting on chemical weapons 29 countries are expected to agree to work more closely on targeting those behind chemical weapons attacks and imposing necessary sanctions on them.
As a first step, France on Tuesday imposed unilateral sanctions on 25 people and entities, including from China, Lebanon and France, and among them importers and distributors of metals, electronics and lighting systems. It said the companies were helping to supply Syria’s chemical weapons programme.
A joint inquiry of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) determined that the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an April 4, 2017, attack and also used several times chlorine as a weapon.
Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones