JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (CBSNewYork/AP) — Key Arab allies of the United States agreed Thursday to “do their share” to fight the Islamic State group, promising to take action to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and possibly to join military action.
NATO member Turkey refused to join its Arab neighbors in their public pledge, however, signaling the struggle the West faces in trying to get front-line nations to set aside political feuds and work together against a common enemy.
The announcement followed a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his regional counterparts in the Saudi Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah. His visit, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was aimed at pinning down regional allies on what support they are willing to give to U.S. plans to beat back the Islamic State group, which has seized large chunks of Iraq and Syria.
In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Kerry noted the “particularly poignant day” for the discussions — the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.
“The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and so many of our friends and allies around the world,” Kerry said. “Those consequences are felt every day here in the Middle East.”
The meeting ended with Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon pledging in a joint statement to stand against terrorism. They promised steps including stopping fighters and funding, repudiating the Islamic State group’s ideology, providing humanitarian aid and “as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a coordinated military campaign.”
They also agreed to boost support for the new Iraqi government as it tries to unite its citizens in the fight against the militants, and discussed strategies to “destroy” the group “wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said coalition members agreed to share responsibilities for fighting the Islamic State group, as well as to ‘be serious and continuous in our action to eliminate and wipe out all these terrorist organizations.”
Turkey also attended the meeting but did not sign the final communique.
The NATO ally had been asked to secure its borders to prevent oil smuggling out of Iraq and Syria and keep foreign fighters from heading in. But Ankara has been reluctant to take a prominent role in the coalition, in part out of concern for the 49 Turkish citizens who were kidnapped from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when it was overrun by Islamic State fighters in June.
A senior State Department official predicted the U.S. will continue to work with Turkey to repel the insurgents’ threat, and said Ankara is in a difficult position as it tries to protect the hostages. The official was not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Greater regional support is seen as key to combatting the spread of the Islamic State group, which has proved so ruthless that even al-Qaida severed ties with it earlier this year. Nearly 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the group.
President Barack Obama on Wednesday laid out a long-term U.S. strategy against the group that would include expanding airstrikes against its fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants.
“ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple,” Obama said. “It has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in their way.”
The president also wants to support rebel forces on the ground so he doesn’t have to commit a large number of American troops, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
“On paper, the president’s policy, I believe, is sufficient. What now is going to be important is how he carries it out and makes sure his heart is in it — and he realizes that there’s no need to apologize; there’s no need to explain,” U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said after the president’s speech. “He told us what his policy is — now go do it.”
“Before we begin any kind of sustained air campaign in Syria we need to have a ground force we can work with,” said Rep. Adam Smith.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he agreed with the president’s authorization of air strikes without deploying new “boots on the ground” in the Middle East.
He chided those who wanted to do so as dangerously “rushing to war” and also said he believes that there should be a “real debate” before any further use of force in the region.
De Blasio addressed Obama’s plan after attending the September 11th anniversary ceremony at ground zero for the first time as mayor. He spoke about his responsibility to safeguard the city, including against “new challenges” like ISIS.
Police Commissioner Bill Bratton weighed in, calling ISIS a bigger threat to the homeland than al-Qaida.
“Al-Qaida is always looking for the big event. Its history has always been the 9/11 style event, the plane bombing, etc. ISIS would be much more into the inspiration of the lone wolf, ISIS would be much more into the solo act,” Bratton said.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence John Miller was asked on CBS This Morning if ISIS could pose a threat outside the Middle East and in America.
“It’s already happened. If you go back through the attack in Belgium, the Jewish Museum, you see a foreign fighter who was on the ground fighting for ISIS in Syria who returned home and on the way decided to carry out an attack,” Miller said.
Bratton said they know at least 100 Americans have joined ISIS and the task now is to identify them and establish a watch list to prevent re-entry into the country, Kramer reported.
Members of Congress are receiving classified briefings Thursday on how the president plans to arm the rebels. Many have expressed concerns about the type of weapons we give them in case they fall into the wrong hands, Kramer reported.
The president’s remarks came in the wake of intense criticism for admitting last month that he had no plan to combat ISIS, which has already beheaded two American journalists and taken control of parts of Syria and Iraq, and growing public concern about Islamic extremism. The Pew Research Center recently found six in 10 Americans now say they are very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism around the world.
Some Gulf states could in theory take an active role in helping with airstrikes, as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar did in the U.S.-led aerial campaign over Libya in 2011 that helped lead to the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. Gulf nations could also assist with arms, training, intelligence and logistics.
Saudi Arabia’s willingness to host the meeting is significant given the OPEC kingpin’s role as a political and economic heavyweight and its custodianship of Islam’s holiest sites.
Another senior State Department official, who was not authorized to be named while briefing reporters and spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters ahead of the Saudi meeting that Kerry would ask Mideast countries to encourage government-controlled media and members of the religious establishment to speak out against extremism.
Squabbling among Washington’s allies in the region has complicated efforts to present a united front to beat back the militants.
Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt are at odds with Qatar and Turkey because of the latter two countries’ support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the region.
Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, emphasized that rift in his opening remarks, saying regional chaos is the result of a number of factors, including the tolerance of some in the region and the West with “so-called political Islam” — a clear dig at supporters of the Brotherhood.
American officials have voiced concerns too about Kuwait’s and Qatar’s willingness to crack down on private fundraising for extremist groups.
Salman Shaikh, the director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said Thursday’s meeting was important because it signaled a U.S. reengagement in the region _ something many Mideast allies feel has been lacking under the Obama administration.
“How the U.S. can play this role will be absolutely crucial,” he said. “It has to act as a keen leader for its friends and allies, but also act as a referee between Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran, particularly when it comes to the issue of Iraq and the issue of Syria.”
The U.S. already has launched more than 150 airstrikes against militants in Iraq over the past month, and has sent military advisers and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including an additional $48 million announced Wednesday.
The Mideast diplomatic push comes ahead of a conference set for Monday in Paris on how to stabilize Iraq. That meeting will include officials from the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China, and could also include other nations — possibly even Iran.
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