Tillerson to discuss Syria, combating IS in Mideast visit

(MENAFN- Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (KUNA) -- In his visit to the Middle East next week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will meet with senior officials in Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt to tackle key regional issues on Syria and combating the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Tillerson kicks-off his Middle East visit in Amman, Jordan, where he will meet with King Abdullah II and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Al-Safadi for a whole range of talks, including the conflict in Syria, defeating IS and other terrorist groups, and the Mideast peace process, senior State Department officials told the media.

Tillerson and Al-Safadi will also sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the details of which will be unveiled after the signing but what a senior State Department official described "enshrines bilateral commitment to cooperate on a "whole range of bilateral assistance priorities, economic, defense security over the coming years." Thereafter, the Secretary will follow up a series of high-level telephone and in-person engagements with senior Turkish officials with a visit to Ankara to discuss a full range of regional and security issues from the Defeat-IS campaign to countering PKK, the official said.

The visit comes as Syrian and Russian forces step up strikes against rebel-held enclaves, Turkey battles US-backed Kurdish forces in the north, and US-led forces bombed pro-regime fighters attacking their local allies in the east.

"The purpose is to reaffirm the value of our alliance with Turkey and the shared interest that we face as we try to work through a range of these challenges together," a senior official said.

"We are urging Turkey to show restraint in their operations in Afrin and to show restraint further along the line across the border in Northern Syria," he added.

"Obviously we need to work with the Turks to figure out more what their long term intentions are and if there is a way we can address their legitimate security concerns while at the same time minimizing civilian casualties and above all else keeping everything focuses on the defeat-IS fight," noted the official.

In Beirut, Tillerson will meet with President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri, and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri primarily to discuss Hezbolllah and the role it plays in Lebanon and across the region, which the Trump administration has called "unacceptable." While there, Tillerson will also reaffirm US commitment to supporting Lebanon's armed forces who are involved in the fight against IS and Al-Qaeda, as well as a whole range of challenges the country faces such as defending its borders from terrorists and coping with an influx of over a million refugees from the war in Syria.

In Cairo, Tillerson will meet with Egyptian President Abdelfatah Al-Sisi and his counterpart Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Tillerson will discuss issues of mutual concern with the Egyptians such as Libya, Syria, shared commitment to fighting terrorism, Israeli-Palestinian issues and efforts to move the prospects for peace forward, and other topics pertaining to the bilateral relationship and how it can be further strengthened, according to senior State Department officials.

Tillerson's visit will be between February 11-16, according to the State Department.

It comes just weeks after Vice President Mike Pence traveled to the region for three-days to discuss plans to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, following President Donald Trump's controversial decision to recognize the Old City as an Israeli capital. (end) hy.ma



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