Mattis looks to diplomacy as IS crumbles in Syria

 06 Nov 2017 - 14:33

Mattis looks to diplomacy as IS crumbles in Syria
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis in Helsinki, Finland November 6, 2017. Lehtikuva/Heikki Saukkomaa

AFP

Helsinki: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday that he supported a diplomatic solution for the Syria conflict, as America and its partners look beyond the defeat of the Islamic State group in the war-torn nation.

Speaking to reporters ahead of his arrival for talks in Finland on Monday, Mattis said intelligence assessments -- based primarily on the numbers of jihadists who have surrendered, deserted or been wounded -- showed that "the whole bottom was dropping out" of IS.

He said he supported a UN-backed effort in Geneva, which has run in parallel to a Russian and Iranian-led process, to reach a diplomatic solution.

"Basically, we are trying to get this into the diplomatic mode so we can sort this out and make certain that minorities, whoever they are, are not subject to what we've seen" under the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The fight against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq and Syria is not over, but they have sustained a string of major defeats and lost most of the territory they once held. 

US allies are anxious for clear guidance from Washington about its plans in Syria once the Islamic State group is crushed.

Mattis's arrival in Finland kicked of a week of talks with regional allies and NATO partners that will focus on security issues including IS and Russia's increased military assertiveness.

He will head to NATO headquarters in Brussels later in the week.

Mattis's Helsinki visit also spotlights the workings of the so-called Northern Group, a little-known forum of 12 European nations that focuses on the continent's military and security challenges, particularly those coming from the east.

The trip "is an opportunity to reiterate that we stand by our friends' democracies, NATO and otherwise in Europe, if any nation including Russia seeks to undermine the rules-based international order," Mattis said.

"We do have a lot of shared values about sovereignty," he added.

Though Finland and Sweden are not NATO members, they cooperate closely with the 28-member alliance.

Moscow frequently sends warplanes into the skies around the Baltics and Europe remains anxious about Russia's military intentions, especially after the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The Northern Group comprises Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden and Britain.