Mattis looks to diplomacy as IS crumbles in Syria

HELSINKI: US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday that he supported a diplomatic solution for the Syria conflict, as America and its partners look beyond the defeat of the IS 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 militants 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 IS 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 IS 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. — AFP