US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday faced a grilling by global peers seeking clarity on Washington’s position on the Syria conflict ahead of UN peace talks in Geneva.
On the sidelines of a G20 gathering in Germany, Tillerson joined a group of countries supporting the Syrian opposition for talks pushing a political solution to the nearly six-year war.
It is the first meeting of the so-called “like-minded” nations — made up of around a dozen Western and Arab countries as well as Turkey — since US President Donald Trump took office.
Tillerson, on his first diplomatic trip abroad, will face pressure to spell out where Trump stands on the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“It will be an opportunity to gauge the American position on the political aspect of the Syrian issue,” a French diplomatic source told AFP.
The meeting came ahead of a new round of United Nations-led talks in Geneva on February 23 involving Syrian regime and rebel representatives.
Trump has called for closer cooperation with Moscow in the fight against the ISIL Takfiri group in Syria, leaving the Assad question open.
With Russia’s sway in the conflict growing, Moscow has seized the initiative by hosting separate peace talks in Kazakhstan along with Turkey, to broker a fragile six-week truce between Syria’s warring parties.
“It’s essential to know what the US administration has in mind,” a European diplomat said ahead of Friday’s talks in the German city of Bonn.
“Our goal is to make sure to bring the (peace) process back under UN control,” the source added.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, host of the G20 meeting, said he wanted the “like-minded” countries to speak as one.
“What we need is unity so we can achieve the resumption of negotiations in Geneva between the different interest groups and parties to the Syrian conflict.”