The United States is prepared to work with Russia on the establishment of “no-fly zones” in Syria, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. In a wide-ranging statement issued two days ahead of President Donald Trump’s first face-to-face with Vladimir Putin, Tillerson said Russia had a “special responsibility” to help stabilise the war-ravaged country. “The United States is prepared to explore the possibility of establishing with Russia joint mechanisms for ensuring stability, including no-fly zones, on the ground ceasefire observers, and coordinated delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said Wednesday.
Tillerson issued his statement before joining Trump in Europe, where the US leader is preparing to meet for the first time with Putin on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. Syria will loom large in their discussions.
It also came as US-backed fighters inch forwards in Raqa’s Old City, in what Washington sees as a “key milestone” in the campaign to defeat the Islamic State group in its de facto Syrian capital.
“ISIS has been badly wounded, and is could be on the brink of complete defeat in Syria if all parties focus on this objective,” Tillerson said. “In order to complete the mission, the international community, and especially Russia, must remove obstacles to the defeat of ISIS.”
“We call upon all parties, including the Syrian government and its allies, Syrian opposition forces, and Coalition forces carrying out the battle to defeat ISIS, to avoid conflict with one another and adhere to agreed geographical boundaries for military de-confliction and protocols for de-escalation.”
Tillerson appealed in particular to Russia to help create stability on the ground — or risk seeing progress in defeating IS undone — and to achieve a political settlement that charts a way forward for the Syrian people. “Russia has a special responsibility to assist in these efforts,” he said.
Tillerson also said Moscow as a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has the responsibility of preventing his regime from further use of chemical weapons.
The United States launched a cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base in April in response to what it said was a government chemical weapons attack on civilians.