Tiller­son, col­leagues seek G-7 Syria unity

Al­lies want signs of U.S. pol­icy af­ter mis­sile strike

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JILL LAW­LESS AND JOSH LE­D­ER­MAN

LUCCA, ITALY | For­eign min­is­ters from the Group of Seven in­dus­tri­al­ized na­tions met Mon­day to try to forge a com­mon re­sponse to the deadly chem­i­cal at­tack in Syria, with new sanc­tions against Rus­sian back­ers of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad one of the op­tions on the ta­ble.

G-7 diplo­mats sit­ting down for talks in the cen­turies-old Du­cal Palace in Lucca, Italy, hope to use out­rage over the at­tack and wide in­ter­na­tional support for the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­tal­ia­tory mis­sile strikes to push Rus­sia to aban­don Mr. As­sad and join a new peace ef­fort for Syria.

Mem­bers of the group also hoped to gain a sense from Secretary of State Rex W. Tiller­son of Pres­i­dent Trump’s next steps and for­eign pol­icy goals, with Mr. Tiller­son head­ing on to Moscow for his first meet­ing with Rus­sian lead­ers since be­ing con­firmed start­ing Tues­day.

Speak­ing af­ter meet­ing with Mr. Tiller­son, Bri­tish For­eign Secretary Boris John­son said min­is­ters “will be dis­cussing the pos­si­bil­ity of fur­ther sanc­tions, cer­tainly, on some of the Syr­ian mil­i­tary fig­ures and in­deed on some of the Rus­sian mil­i­tary fig­ures.”

He said Rus­sia had a choice: to con­tinue back­ing the “toxic” As­sad regime “or to work with the rest of the world to find a so­lu­tion for Syria — a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion.”

But top Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials have sent mixed sig­nals in the past two days about whether they share the de­ter­mi­na­tion of al­lies such as Bri­tain that Mr. As­sad must be re­moved from power as part of a long-term so­lu­tion to the Syr­ian civil war and the fight against ji­hadi groups such as Is­lamic State.

Last week’s nerve gas at­tack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, which killed more than 80 peo­ple, stirred Mr. Trump — who was pre­vi­ously cool to the idea of U.S. in­ter­ven­tion — to strike for the first time at Mr. As­sad’s forces. U.S. war­ships fired 59 cruise mis­siles at the Syr­ian air base from which the U.S. be­lieves the at­tack was launched.

The U.S. strikes drew support from other Western lead­ers who have been un­cer­tain what to make of Mr. Trump’s self-de­scribed “Amer­ica First” for­eign pol­icy. Ital­ian For­eign Min­is­ter An­gelino Al­fano said Sun­day that Europe’s broad support for the U.S. mil­i­tary strikes had con­trib­uted to a “re­newed har­mony” between Wash­ing­ton and its part­ners.

The two-day G-7 meet­ing in the Tus­can walled city of Lucca is bring­ing to­gether the for­eign min­is­ters of France, Ger­many, Bri­tain, Ja­pan and Canada, the U.S. and cur­rent G-7 pres­i­dent Italy, as well as Euro­pean Union for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini.

Ahead of the full meet­ing, Mr. Tiller­son held bi­lat­eral talks with G-7 coun­ter­parts in­clud­ing Bri­tain’s Mr. John­son, French For­eign Min­is­ter Jean-Marc Ayrault and Ja­panese For­eign Min­is­ter Fu­mio Kishida.

Mr. Tiller­son also spoke by phone with Turk­ish For­eign Min­is­ter Mev­lut Cavu­soglu, whose gov­ern­ment in­sists Mr. As­sad should play no role in Syria’s fu­ture.

The G-7 meet­ing comes as the United States is send­ing a Navy car­rier strike group to­ward the Korean Penin­sula in a show of strength fol­low­ing North Korea’s per­sis­tent bal­lis­tic mis­sile tests.

The Syr­ian chem­i­cal at­tack has sent a new chill through re­la­tions between the West and Moscow, which backs Mr. As­sad diplo­mat­i­cally and mil­i­tar­ily, and de­nies Syr­ian forces used chem­i­cal weapons.

Rus­sia planned to put for­ward a pro­posal on Mon­day for an in­de­pen­dent and im­par­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the at­tack, a spokesman for Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Sig­mar Gabriel said, call­ing it “a good and im­por­tant sign.”

Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Mo­ham­mad Javad Zarif, whose gov­ern­ment is an­other backer of Mr. As­sad’s, also called for an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry un­der U.N. aus­pices when he spoke Mon­day to Mr. Al­fano, Italy’s for­eign min­istry said in a state­ment.

The United States is fight­ing Is­lamic State group mil­i­tants in Syria, but had pre­vi­ously avoided strik­ing gov­ern­ment forces, largely out of con­cern about be­ing pulled into a mil­i­tary con­flict with Rus­sia, whose re­la­tions with the West have been on a down­ward spi­ral for sev­eral years.

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.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tiller­son (back to cam­era) met with his G-7 col­leagues in Lucca, Italy, Mon­day to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion in Syria fol­low­ing a chem­i­cal at­tack by forces of Pres­i­dent Basar As­sad. Par­tic­i­pants are aim­ing to pres­sure Rus­sia to end its support for Mr. As­sad in the wake of the at­tack that killed chil­dren.

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