World reactions to the US’ planned ‘war on ISIS’

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US Secratery of State John Kerry (L) talks with atendees before the start of a Gulf Cooperation Council and Regional Partners meeting at King Abdulaziz International Airport’s Royal Terminal on September 11, 2014 in Jeddah. (Photo: AFP-Brendan Smialowski)

By: Rana Harbi

Published Thursday, September 11, 2014

US Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Arab leaders to support US President Barack Obama's plans for a military intervention in the region against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which include greater overflight rights for US warplanes, airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, and training and arming “moderate” Syrian rebels on Saudi territory.

Kerry met with the US’ regional allies in Saudi Arabia on Thursday as he bids for a broad coalition against ISIS. The talks included the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Syria and Iran were not present at the talks.

All 10 Arab states, including heavyweight Saudi Arabia, agreed to rally behind Washington in the fight against ISIS. A statement at the conclusion of a meeting in the Red Sea resort between Kerry and his Arab counterparts said that “the participating states agreed to do their share in the comprehensive fight" against ISIS.

Syria: A new US war on the region

On Tuesday, Syrian media accused Arab governments of giving Washington prior agreement for military action against jihadists in Syria.

These allegations were proven to be true after Obama’s speech on Wednesday in which he announced that he had authorized airstrikes for the first time in Syria in a broad escalation of a campaign against ISIS.

"I will not hesitate to take action against (ISIS) in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven," he said, framing ISIS as a danger to the West more so than to the people living in regions directly threatened by ISIS.

Obama's decision to launch attacks inside Syria was done without the consent of the Syrian government. On Thursday, National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar said that US air strikes on Syrian territory without permission from the government in Damascus would be an act of "aggression” on the country.

"Any action of any kind without the consent of the Syrian government is an aggression against Syria," Haidar told reporters in Damascus.

Syria has repeatedly warned that any action on its soil needs its approval and has said it is willing to work with any country to tackle ISIS fighters who have captured large areas of Syria and neighboring Iraq.

"There must be cooperation with Syria and coordination with Syria and there must be a Syrian approval of any action whether it is military or not,” Haidar added. Haidar refused to be drawn on what response Syria might have to any unilateral US military action on the country's territory.

"But under international law there must be cooperation and cooperation with Syria and Syrian consent for any action, whether military or nonmilitary on Syrian territory," he added.

Similarly, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem warned in August the US against carrying airstrikes without Damascus’s permission, saying any such attack would be considered an aggression and a clear violation of Syria’s sovereignty.

Russia: US airstrikes in Syria “an act of aggression”

Russia said on Thursday airstrikes against ISIS in Syria without a UN Security Council mandate would be an act of aggression, raising the possibility of a new confrontation with the West in coming weeks.

"The US president has spoken directly about the possibility of strikes by the US armed forces against ISIS positions in Syria without the consent of the legitimate government," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. "This step, in the absence of a UN Security Council decision, would be an act of aggression, a gross violation of international law."

Russia, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, has given Assad crucial backing in the Syria crisis. Russia has repeatedly argued that it does not believe the Syrian opposition can fill the void that would be left by Assad's departure, warning the country would fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Iran: Severe “misgivings” about the so-called international coalition

Iran said on Thursday the emerging international coalition to battle ISIS was "shrouded in serious ambiguities," Iranian state television reported.

"The so-called international coalition to fight the ISIS group... is shrouded in serious ambiguities and there are severe misgivings about its determination to sincerely fight the root causes of terrorism," Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said on Thursday.

China: Respect the sovereignty of countries

China responded cautiously on Thursday to Obama's call, saying the world should fight terrorism but that the sovereignty of countries must be respected. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the world was facing a terror threat that was a "new challenge" to international cooperation.

"China opposes all forms of terrorism, and upholds that the international community must jointly cooperate to strike against terrorism, including supporting efforts by relevant countries to maintain domestic security and stability," Hua told a daily news briefing when asked about Obama's comments.

"At the same time, we also uphold that in the international fight against terrorism, international law should be respected and the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of relevant nations should also be respected," she added. "China is willing to continue increasing exchanges and cooperation on fighting terrorism with the international community on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation."

Turkey: No anti-ISIS attacks from Turkey’s air bases

Turkey will refuse to allow a US-led coalition to attack jihadists in neighboring Iraq and Syria from its air bases, nor will it take part in combat operations against militants, a government official told AFP Thursday. "Turkey will not be involved in any armed operation but will entirely concentrate on humanitarian operations," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Turkey has come under fire by some critics for indirectly encouraging the formation of ISIS because of its support of Islamist opponents of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, and its loose control of its borders. But Ankara vehemently denies its strategy has backfired.

Turkey now sees itself a victim of ISIS with Islamist militants holding 49 Turks hostage, including diplomats and children, abducted from the Turkish consulate in Mosul in Iraq on June 11. Ankara is therefore reluctant to take a stronger role in the coalition against ISIS militants in apparent fear of aggravating the hostage situation.

"Our hands and arms are tied because of the hostages," the official told AFP.

Turkey can open Incirlik Air Base in the south for logistical and humanitarian operations in any US-led operation, according to the official who stressed that the base would not be used for lethal air strikes.

"Turkey will not take part in any combat mission, nor supply weapons," he said.

France: In favor of airstrikes in Iraq but not in Syria

France, a key ally of the United States in the planned coalition, said on Wednesday it was ready to take part in airstrikes in Iraq, but said its involvement in any military action in Syria would need to have international law behind it. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the Iraqi government has asked for help internationally, but in Syria the legal basis would have to be established first.

French officials have said that would come either through a Security Council resolution or under Article 51 of the UN charter, allowing for protection of threatened populations.

"The Russians aren't beholden to Assad," said a senior French diplomat.

"It's in their interest as much as ours to fight terrorism so we can hopefully find some pragmatic and objective ways to resolve our differences and find a way to agree."

Britain: PM spokesman vs. Foreign Secretary

British Prime Minister David Cameron has not ruled out military action against the ISIS in Syria, his spokesman said on Thursday after Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would not take part in any air strikes there.

"In terms of air power, the prime minister has not ruled anything out and that is the position," Cameron's spokesman told reporters. However, Hammoud said Thursday that Britain won't join the United States in air strikes against ISIS jihadist fighters in Syria, without ruling out similar action in Iraq.

"Let me be clear Britain will not be taking part in any air strikes in Syria," he said in Berlin.

"We've already had that discussion in our parliament last year and we won't be revisiting that position." Regarding the wider US military campaign against ISIS militants across the area they have captured in Syria and Iraq, he said that "we are clear that we will make a contribution."

"We listened very carefully last night to what the US president had to say. We support entirely the United States' approach of developing an international and a regional coalition in support of the Iraqi government."

Speaking at a joint press conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, he also said that "we have to challenge the notion that ISIS is somehow unstoppable."

"We have to push them back. We have to challenge their legitimacy in the eyes of radical Muslims and that process has begun with many Islamic scholars speaking out against the ideology that they profess.

"And we have to challenge them militarily. And as I said earlier, we will look very carefully at the US-led plan and we will look at how the UK can best contribute to that plan, ruling nothing out at this stage."

Germany won’t join US airstrikes in Syria

Germany, which recently took the watershed decision to send arms to Iraqi Kurds battling ISIS, will not take part in air strikes, Steinmeier said. He said that "neither have we been asked to do that, nor will we do it" and added that the move to break with a post-war policy of refusing to send weapons into conflict zones had not been easy for the German government.

Earlier Thursday, Steinmeier told the Bundestag lower house of parliament that he had invited his counterparts from the Group of 7 to discuss a political strategy against the ISIS later this month. The meeting "at which we will discuss this political strategy with the Arab states" will be held the week of the UN General Assembly in New York, he said.

Iraq: Abadi vs. Sadr

The US announcement was praised by Baghdad, where a unity government was formed on Monday to address grievances that contributed to the rise of the brutal jihadists.

"Iraq welcomes Obama's strategy about standing with it in its war against ISIS and the terrorist groups," said the office of Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

Earlier, in Baghdad, Kerry, who is on a tour of the Middle East to build military, political and financial support to defeat the ISIS militants, said Abadi's government was "the heart and backbone" of the fight against ISIS.

However, Muqtada al-Sadr, head of a powerful movement in Iraq, said on Wednesday during Kerry's visit that Iraq should not cooperate with "occupiers."

"We wish for Iraq to cooperate with the neighboring countries and its allies, but not with the occupiers," said Sadr, whose opinions hold sway over tens of thousands of militants.

Obama said on Wednesday that the US plans to expand the list of targets inside Iraq beyond several isolated areas.

The US military has launched more than 150 airstrikes in Iraq in the past month.

The new target list will allegedly include ISIS' "leadership, logistical and operational capability," as well as an attempt to "deny it sanctuary and resources to plan, prepare and execute attacks," the White House said.

Obama will send 475 more American advisers to Iraq, which will bring to 1,600 the number there. Obama, allegedly determined to avoid a repeat of the Iraq war, stressed they would not engage in combat.

Saudi Arabia: Complete support of the US

Washington and its allies have supported the insurgency against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and have ruled out cooperating with him to fight ISIS. Instead the United States wants to bolster so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels fighting Assad and has asked Congress to authorize $500 million to train and arm them. The training would take place in Saudi Arabia.

In a strong measure of support that could help rally Gulf states behind the US-led coalition, Saudi Arabia agreed to host training camps for the so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels who are part of Obama's broad strategy to combat the militants, who have taken over a third of both Syria and Iraq.

The Saudi decision emerged after Obama spoke by phone earlier in the day with Saudi King Abdullah, who has long pressed the United States to take a bigger role in aiding “moderate” Syrian rebel groups.

Critics opposed to US involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington, in partnership with its Gulf allies, especially Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.

On Monday, a study by the London-based small-arms research organization Conflict Armament Research revealed that ISIS jihadists appear to be using US military issue arms and weapons supplied by Saudi Arabia to the so-called moderate rebels in Syria.

Syria's opposition welcomes Obama’s strategy

Syria's Western-backed National Coalition opposition has said it is ready to work with the United States against ISIS, saying it had long called action and had repeatedly warned about the threat of radical Islamists.

"We urge the US Congress to approve the president's policy as soon as possible, and to allow the training and equipping of Free Syrian Army," coalition president Hadi al-Bahra said in a written statement. The coalition, which is based in Turkey, has received support and recognition from the Western powers and Gulf states who are among Assad's most vocal opponents, but has struggled to win support on the ground.

"The Syrian Coalition... stands ready and willing to partner with the international community not only to defeat ISIS but also rid the Syrian people of the tyranny of the Assad regime," it said.

UN Syria envoy: To find a Syrian-owned all-inclusive, positive, political process

Speaking in Damascus after meeting with Assad and other senior Syrian officials, UN-appointed mediator Mistura said it was important for the international community to tackle radical militant groups in Syria.

"The terrorist threat has become an international concern shared by everyone," he told a news conference, adding that the international community was getting closer to taking action.

He said he had a "very long and useful meeting" with Assad, but declined to give details, saying only that the United Nations would work with Syria to help tackle the violence, provide humanitarian aid and work on a solution to the crisis.

"Syrians, wherever they are, and the government should be helped by the United Nations and the international community to find a Syrian-owned all-inclusive, positive, political process," he said.

Syria has said it is willing to work with Mistura and has called on him to be fair and respect the wishes of the Syrian people.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)

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