The United States will stand up to aggressors who harm civilians and hold them accountable, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Monday, days after the US military unexpectedly attacked Syria.
Opening his visit to Italy, Tillerson traveled up a winding mountain road to Sant’Anna di Stazzema, the Tuscan village where the Nazis massacred more than 500 civilians during World War II. As he laid a wreath at the site, Tillerson alluded to the chemical attack in Syria last week that triggered retaliatory US airstrikes.
Before the April 7 missile strikes on a Syrian airbase, Trump had indicated he would be less interventionist than his predecessors and willing to overlook human rights abuses if it was in US interests.
But Tillerson said the United States would not let such crimes go unchallenged.
“We rededicate ourselves to holding to account any and all who commit crimes against the innocents anywhere in the world,” Tillerson said. “This place will serve as an inspiration to us all.”
Tillerson is in Italy for a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) major industrialized nations, with his counterparts from Europe and Japan eager for clarity from Washington on numerous diplomatic issues, especially Syria.
Tillerson’s visit to Europe has been overshadowed from the start by President Donald Trump’s decision to punish head of Syrian regime Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons by launching cruise missiles at a Syrian air base.
The US military action has renewed the world’s focus on Assad’s fate and on Syria’s civil war, now in its seventh year.
The top American diplomat plans to use his meetings with foreign ministers from the Group of 7 industrialized economies – normally a venue for wonky economic discussions – to try to persuade leading countries to support the US plan. The centerpiece of that diplomacy will come Tuesday morning when Tillerson takes part in a meeting of “likeminded” nations on Syria. Italy, Germany, France and Britain have invited foreign ministers from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Qatar to sit down with the G7 group on Tuesday morning to discuss Syria. All oppose Assad’s rule.
The Trump administration is hoping that after defeating the ISIS group in Syria, it can restore stability by securing local ceasefires between Assad’s regime and opposition groups that allow local leaders who have fled to return and by restoring basic services. The next step would be to use UN talks to negotiate a political transition that could include Assad leaving power.
From Italy, Tillerson will travel to Moscow, becoming the first Trump administration official to visit Russia. That trip, too, is fraught with tension over Syria: Tillerson has blamed Russia, Assad’s strongest ally, of either complicity or incompetence for allowing Assad to possess and use chemical weapons.
During his first day in Italy, Tillerson plans to meet Monday with foreign ministers from the UK and France before the G-7 summit formally opens.