WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will host his first roundtable of global counterparts to discuss progress and the way forward in defeating the Islamic State, though Russia will not be invited.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters today that the March 22 meeting in D.C. will include “foreign ministers and senior leaders of the global coalition dedicated to the complete defeat of ISIS,” and Tillerson will use the event to “express his full support of the coalition’s mission.”
It will be the first meeting since 2014 of all 68 members in the global coalition to defeat ISIS.
“Secretary Tillerson has been crystal clear that defeating ISIS is the State Department’s top priority in the Middle East. He said it in his confirmation hearing, and he said it repeatedly to foreign counterparts,” Toner said. “ISIS has unleashed violence and havoc in the region by committing a mass homicide and terrorizing people in Iraq and Syria, unleashing a wave of refugees and – as well as a humanitarian crisis. Defeating ISIS is the start of a process to create, as well, stability in Syria.”
Topics of the meeting will include “how to thwart foreign terrorist fighters, counterterrorist financing, stabilization of liberated areas, and the ongoing humanitarian crisis.”
Toner confirmed “Russia will not be part of these meetings — they’re not part of the global coalition.”
He added that the “first and foremost” mission of the coalition “is the fight to destroy ISIS,” but “that certainly doesn’t change our focus on trying to resolve the civil war that’s ongoing in Syria.”
“We just are – there’s essentially two difficult challenges to resolve within Syria. One is the removal of ISIS, and certainly the other one is a peaceful political resolution to the civil war. And let me be clear as well that the primary driver of that civil war is the regime of Bashar al-Assad,” he said.
ISIS claimed credit for a gruesome Wednesday attack in Kabul in which gunmen disguised as doctors terrorized a military hospital for hours, killing at least 30 people.
Toner said that the U.S. government has “always been clear that this is an organization that, as we attempt to eradicate it from its home base in – Iraq, rather, and in Syria, it’s trying to set up new affiliates, if you will, in other places around the globe and in some of those ungoverned spaces, which, again, supports why it’s so important for us to continue our efforts to stabilize Afghanistan, to work with the Afghan government and Afghan Security Forces to increase their capabilities to provide that kind of security.”
“But I would say certainly we’re concerned about anywhere that ISIS might look to establish a foothold,” he added. “We’ve seen it also in places like Libya. But we’ve also been successful in, where we do have opportunities to strike ISIS leadership in those places, we take advantage of them. It’s just something we’re obviously aware of and we’re coordinating with our partners on the ground to go after ISIS wherever it seeks to establish itself.”
What’s different about this upcoming counter-ISIS planning meeting, he said, was its “opportunity for Secretary Tillerson to lay out the challenges that are facing the coalition moving forward.”
“I think we all recognize that we have seen progress in defeating ISIS on the ground, certainly on the battlefield. They’ve lost territory. How do we leverage that success? How do we build on that success? How do we augment our capabilities? And also, as I said, what are the next challenges?” Toner said. “I mentioned – and cyberspace as one area that they’re going to look at – how we augment our work. But I think, again, there’s also dealing with finances, dealing with the foreign fighters.”
“I think he wants to get a sense, working with partners on all of those issues, what are the best ways forward.”