After Syria attack, Tillerson vows to defend innocents

After Syria attack, Tillerson vows to defend innocents

US strike on Syrian regime has renewed world’s focus on Al Assad’s fate

Image Credit: REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Italy’s Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano and E.U. High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini attend a ceremony at the Sant’Anna di Stazzema memorial, dedicated to the victims of the massacre committed in the village of Sant’Anna di Stazzema by the Nazis in 1944 during World War II, Italy April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Max Rossi

SANT’ANNA DI STAZZEMA, Italy: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used a visit on Monday to a Second World War memorial to declare that the United States will stand up to aggressors who harm civilians, as the Trump administration sought to rally world leaders behind a strategy to resolve the protracted civil war in Syria.

Opening his visit to Italy, Tillerson travelled up a winding mountain road to Sant’Anna di Stazzema, the Tuscan village where the Nazis massacred more than 500 civilians during Second World War. As he laid a wreath at the site, Tillerson alluded to the chemical attack in Syria last week that triggered retaliatory US air strikes.

“We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” Tillerson said. “This place will serve as an inspiration to us all.”

Tillerson’s visit to Europe has been overshadowed from the start by President Donald Trump’s decision to punish Syrian President Bashar Al Assad for using chemical weapons by launching cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. The US military action has renewed the world’s focus on Al Assad’s fate and on Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year.

The top American diplomat plans to use his meetings with foreign ministers from the Group of 7 industrialised economies — normally a venue for wonky economic discussions — to try to persuade leading countries to support the US plan. The centrepiece of that diplomacy will come on Tuesday morning when Tillerson takes part in a meeting of “like-minded” nations on Syria, including several Arab nations invited to attend.

The Trump administration is hoping that after defeating Daesh in Syria, it can restore stability by securing local ceasefires between Assad’s government and opposition groups that allow local leaders who have fled to return and by restoring basic services. The next step would be to use UN talks to negotiate a political transition that could include Al Assad leaving power.

From Italy, Tillerson will travel to Moscow, becoming the first Trump administration official to visit Russia. That trip, too, is fraught with tension over Syria: Tillerson has blamed Russia, Al Assad’s strongest ally, of either complicity or incompetence for allowing Assad to possess and use chemical weapons.

During his first day in Italy, Tillerson will meet on Monday with foreign ministers from the UK and France before the G-7 summit formally opens.