Voice of America
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, looking to rally world leaders in support of last week's U.S. missile attack on Syria, Monday promised a new U.S. commitment to facing the world's aggressors who attack their citizens.
Tillerson joined other G-7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy in laying a wreath at a Tuscan village where Nazis massacred more than 500 civilians during World War II. He alluded to the American retaliatory airstrikes in Syria after Damascus launched a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people and sickened hundreds more.
"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."
The top U.S. diplomat, meeting for the first time with other leaders from the world's major advanced economies, is looking for support for the U.S. military action before heading to Russia later in the week for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Moscow's continuing support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson described Assad as "toxic," saying it was "time for [Russian President] Vladimir Putin to face the truth about the tyrant he is propping up."
Ahead of the formal G-7 meetings, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told Tillerson that Tokyo supports the United States in its effort to "deter the spread and use of chemical weapons."
Bilateral Meetings Planned
Before flying to Moscow, Tillerson also plans to meet Tuesday with counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates about the U.S. response to the Syrian chemical weapons attack.
Aside from the six-year-old Syrian civil war and Russia's alliance with Assad, the G-7 foreign ministers also face other daunting issues, including the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons development program and Moscow's support of pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine waging battles with the Kyiv government.
The leaders of the G-7 countries - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and the U.S. - are gathering for their own summit in Italy in May; but, the foreign ministers meeting Monday and Tuesday are laying the groundwork for those talks, with a priority on their collective efforts to oust Islamic State fighters from Syria and Iraq.
Tillerson said Sunday the United States remains committed to an international road map developed in Geneva in 2012 for bringing an end to the conflict in Syria, now in its seventh year. When that plan was developed, the civil war was just more than a year old and has since become a massive humanitarian disaster.
The Geneva Communique calls for a new Syrian constitution and elections, but does not specify the fate of Assad. U.S. officials have in recent days offered contradictory statements on the long-held U.S. policy that Assad should be ousted. Tillerson has called for Assad's removal, but said Islamic State is the focus for now.
"I think what the United States and our allies want to do is to enable the Syrian people to make that determination" about Assad, Tillerson told CBS News on Sunday. "We've seen what violent regime change looks like in Libya and the kind of chaos that can be unleashed."
Libya, Russia, North Korea
Libya is another topic for the G-7. The country has struggled with political instability since the 2011 ouster and killing of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi, with rival governments and militias seeking to assert authority and a U.N.-led process unable to establish a unified body.
Most of the G-7 members took part in a NATO-led air operation backed by a U.N. resolution to protect civilians from strikes by the Libyan government. Russia expressed opposition to that mission, declaring the resolution to be overly broad in what it allowed.
Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine led the G-7 to suspend Russia's involvement from what had been the G-8 group of nations.
The conflict in eastern Ukraine is expected to be among the topics Tillerson raises with Russian officials in Moscow.
In previewing the trip, a senior State Department official said Tillerson will likely push Russia to honor its commitments under agreements reached in Minsk to halt fighting in eastern Ukraine and work toward a peaceful resolution to that conflict.
"He will reiterate that sanctions will remain in place until Russia reverses the actions that triggered them, and as well as on the Crimea-related sanctions that will stay in place until there is a change there," the official said.
North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests will be another topic of discussion, but one where the U.S. and Russia hold similar positions, having joined other powers in issuing condemnations of a number of tests in the past year.
A senior State Department official said generally Tillerson will stress that the United States is willing to work with Russia on areas that are beneficial to the American people, but will "hold Russia accountable when it violates international norms."
The most glaring issue in the relationship may be the finding of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered with last year's U.S. presidential election with the goal of boosting President Donald Trump's chances of winning.
Tillerson is expected to raise the issue, and according to the senior State Department official, sees it as an example of areas where Russia is "creating tensions unnecessarily that erode trust."
The talks about overall U.S.-Russia relations will also serve as a step in exploring whether a direct meeting at a higher level -- between Trump and Putin -- is to come.