John Kerry in Jidda, Saudi Arabia

http://tinyurl.com/n7mhh2z

On Wednesday night, President Barack Obama stated that “I have made it clear that we will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. […] That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: if you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”[1] The ultimate goal of United States’ further operations in the area will be “to degrade, and ultimately destroy, the terrorist group known as ISIL.”[2] This approach will be put into practice by a strategy that has to do with the creation of a broader international coalition force to battle ISIL. Also, the number of military consultants in Iraq will be raised[3] to 1.700.[4] According to senior administration officials, the number of air strikes will be beefed up and expanded to include Syria.[5] The strategy will also include support for moderate Syrian rebels.[6] In this regard President Obama “asked Congress for additional authority to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels to fight the ISIS extremists.”[7]

It is obvious that the most important part of the strategy is that which involves a broad coalition of states to battle ISIL. This is why John Kerry, United States’ Secretary of State, started a tour of the Middle East “designed to drum up support for a coalition to combat ISIS.”[8]

Iraq

 While in Iraq, John Kerry underlined the fact that “IS was the single greatest threat the people of Iraq now faced.”[9] The declaration was made as “Mr. Kerry made an unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital Baghdad at the start of a tour of Middle Eastern capitals aimed at boosting military, political and financial support for the fight against IS.”[10] Among other things Kerry talked in Iraq about the possibility of creating a more inclusive government,[11] in an effort of offering Sunnis a more balanced role in the country (this is probably aimed at trying to persuade some Sunnis in the country to stop supporting ISIL).

Saudi Arabia

After his visit in Iraq, the Secretary of State went to Saudi Arabia for talks with Arab leaders regarding efforts to combat ISIL. The talks included representatives from “United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.”[12] Some sources say that Kerry might be asking “for better efforts to stop individuals from sending money to extremist groups, as financial enforcement by Kuwait and Qatar has been spotty.”[13] There might also be efforts to discuss the possibility of ending alleged oil smuggling practices conducted by ISIL trough the Jordanian and Turkish border,[14] an action aimed at trying to cut one of ISIL’s money supplies.

The visit to Saudi Arabia is considered to be of extreme importance as “analysts say the kingdom, which has backed Sunni groups around the Middle East, is crucial to any effort to build a coalition against IS.”[15] The country’s geographic size, location and economic importance are also elements that make Saudi Arabia key in forming a coalition.[16] According to some official White House sources “Saudi Arabia has agreed to host and help fund a training program”[17] aimed at fighting ISIL. This might be an important development as “Saudi Arabia has in the past provided funding and arms to the Syrian rebels but this will be the first time for the country to take the bold step of hosting and training fighters.”[18]

 A Senior State Department official stated that during the meeting with the Arab leaders, John Kerry was, among other things, “going to ask them to use their nationally owned media, and in two particular cases, this is Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, and encourage their religious establishments to speak out against extremism.”[19] According to Voice of America, “in that push, Kerry echoes Obama's denunciation of the ISIL group as not Islamic because no religion condones the killing of innocents.”[20]

From a purely strategic perspective, “US officials say that wider over flight permission from Arab states would enhance the capacity of US aircraft to attack IS targets in Iraq and Syria, and if deemed necessary impose a no-fly zone.”[21]

According to undisclosed sources close to the American delegation it seems that during the diplomatic tour the Secretary of State discussed with Jordan’s King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein the possibility of “using Jordan as a base for the proposed coalition's strikes against the Islamic State in neighboring Iraq and Syria.”[22] Additionally, according to open sources “U.S. military advisers have provided training in Turkey and Jordan to insurgents of the Free Syrian Army at a rate of 50 fighters a month. The U.S. also is overseeing a program in Qatar to train the group's rebels to fire antitank missiles, insurgents on the Turkish-Syrian border said last month.”[23]

 Iran not a part of the plan

As this article is being written, the number of members of the coalition force sought by President Obama is not absolutely clear. According to W. Juhnan Schmonsees, spokesman of the US Embassy in Riyadh, “there are more than 40 countries who share our ideas and views in joining efforts which can save Iraq from these terrorists, while considering the issue of helping Kurdish forces.”[24] What is clear however is that Iran will not be asked to join. According to John Kerry, “The United States does not cooperate, militarily or otherwise, nor does it have any intention in this process of doing so, with Iran.”[25]

[1] Tom Cohen, “Obama outlines ISIS strategy: Airstrikes in Syria, more U.S. forces”, CNN, 11.09.2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/10/politics/isis-obama-speech/index.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[2] Juliet Eilperin, Ed O’Keefe, “Obama announces broad coalition to fight Islamic State extremist group”, The Washington Post, 10.09.2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/lawmakers-weigh-giving-obama-authority-to-wage-war-against-islamic-state/2014/09/10/59f057b0-38fd-11e4-8601-97ba88884ffd_story.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[3] Ibidem

[4] Tom Cohen, “Obama outlines ISIS strategy: Airstrikes in Syria, more U.S. forces”, CNN, 11.09.2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/10/politics/isis-obama-speech/index.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[5] Ibidem

[6] Juliet Eilperin, Ed O’Keefe, “Obama announces broad coalition to fight Islamic State extremist group”, The Washington Post, 10.09.2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/lawmakers-weigh-giving-obama-authority-to-wage-war-against-islamic-state/2014/09/10/59f057b0-38fd-11e4-8601-97ba88884ffd_story.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[7] Tom Cohen, “Obama outlines ISIS strategy: Airstrikes in Syria, more U.S. forces”, CNN, 11.09.2014, http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/10/politics/isis-obama-speech/index.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[8] “John Kerry in Baghdad: U.S. won’t let ISIS evil spread in Iraq”, NBC News, 10.09.2014, http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/john-kerry-baghdad-u-s-wont-let-isis-evil-spread-n199791, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[9] “John Kerry says world cannot watch IS evil spread”, BBC News, 10.09.2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29139462, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[10] Ibidem

[11] Ibidem

[12] Michael R. Gordon, “Kerry, in Saudi Arabia, Talks Strategy with Arab Leaders”, The New York Times, 11.09.2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/world/middleeast/john-kerry-saudi-arabia-isis-strategy.html?_r=2, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[13] Scott Stearns. “In Saudi Arabia, Kerry seeks Anti-Islamic State Coalition”, Voice of America, 11.09.2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/kerry-saudi-arabia-talks-arab-leaders-comabting-islamic-state/2445974.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[14] Ibidem

[15] “John Kerry says world cannot watch IS evil spread”, BBC News, 10.09.2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29139462, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[16] Scott Stearns. “In Saudi Arabia, Kerry seeks Anti-Islamic State Coalition”, Voice of America, 11.09.2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/kerry-saudi-arabia-talks-arab-leaders-comabting-islamic-state/2445974.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[17] Juliet Eilperin, Ed O’Keefe, “Obama announces broad coalition to fight Islamic State extremist group”, The Washington Post, 10.09.2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/lawmakers-weigh-giving-obama-authority-to-wage-war-against-islamic-state/2014/09/10/59f057b0-38fd-11e4-8601-97ba88884ffd_story.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[18] Maria Abi-Habib. “Kerry holds talks in Saudi Arabia on Anti-Islamic state campaign”, The Wall Street Journal, 11.09.2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/kerry-holds-talks-in-saudi-arabia-on-anti-islamic-state-campaign-1410445577, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[19] Michael R. Gordon, “Kerry, in Saudi Arabia, Talks Strategy with Arab Leaders”, The New York Times, 11.09.2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/world/middleeast/john-kerry-saudi-arabia-isis-strategy.html?_r=2, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[20] Scott Stearns. “In Saudi Arabia, Kerry seeks Anti-Islamic State Coalition”, Voice of America, 11.09.2014, http://www.voanews.com/content/kerry-saudi-arabia-talks-arab-leaders-comabting-islamic-state/2445974.html, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[21] “Kerry arrives in Saudi Arabia to rally support against IS”, Deutsche Welle, 11.09.2014, http://www.dw.de/kerry-arrives-in-saudi-arabia-to-rally-support-against-is/a-17914542, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[22] “Middle East updates/ Kerry meets with Jordan’s King Abdullah to discuss anti-ISIS coalition”, Haaretz, 10.09.2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/middle-east-updates/1.615053, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[23] Maria Abi-Habib. “Kerry holds talks in Saudi Arabia on Anti-Islamic state campaign”, The Wall Street Journal, 11.09.2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/kerry-holds-talks-in-saudi-arabia-on-anti-islamic-state-campaign-1410445577, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[24] Mina Al-Oraibi, “US, Gulf and Arab allies meet to discuss ISIS”, Asharq Al-Awsat, 11.09.2014, http://www.aawsat.net/2014/09/article55336471, consulted on 11.09.2014.

[25] Michael R. Gordon, “Kerry, in Saudi Arabia, Talks Strategy with Arab Leaders”, The New York Times, 11.09.2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/12/world/middleeast/john-kerry-saudi-arabia-isis-strategy.html?_r=2, consulted on 11.09.2014.

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