Blinken to attend Libya, Syria and ISIS conferences on Europe trip

US secretary of state will co-host ministerial meeting aimed at countering ISIS

(FILES) In this file photo US Secretary of State Antony Blinken looks on as he and US President meet Russia's President and Russia's Foreign Minister at the 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva on June 16, 2021. The United States on June 21, 2021 imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials in a coordinated move with Western allies to hit strongman Alexander Lukashenko after the forced landing of a commercial plane. "These coordinated designations demonstrate the steadfast transatlantic commitment to supporting the Belarusian people's democratic aspirations," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will devote a significant amount of time to addressing the conflicts in Libya and Syria as well as the counter-ISIS campaign during his tour of Europe this week.

Mr Blinken will participate in the second Berlin conference on Libya on Wednesday and co-host a ministerial-level meeting on countering ISIS in Rome with Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Luigi Di Maio on June 28.

“The conference is an opportunity for the international community to support the progress made by the Libyan people,” Richard Norland, US special envoy and ambassador to Libya, told reporters during a call previewing the trip on Monday.

“The participation of the Libyan interim Government of National Unity will mark the first time that Libya will be included in the process as participants.”

The inaugural Berlin conference on Libya convened in January of last year. Since then, Libya’s warring governments based out of Tripoli and Tobruk agreed to form a unity government and hold elections this December.

“Berlin, the United States and our partners will reaffirm support for the interim Government of National Unity as it continues its most important tasks, namely preparing for national elections on December 24 of this year as outlined by the Libyan political dialogue for the road map approved through the UN-facilitated political process,” Mr Norland said.

The US special envoy said the unity government is “a key step towards ending a decade of conflict” and reiterated US warnings against “all military escalation and all foreign military intervention that will needlessly prolong the conflict".

Washington seeks “a sovereign, stable, unified Libya with no foreign interference and a state that’s capable of combating terrorism within its borders," he added.

Mr Norland pointed to rebel groups in Chad that have trained and obtained firearms in Libya with assistance from the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary firm.

“In addition, there have been a couple of ISIS-claimed attacks in Libya over the last month,” he said.

Mr Blinken will address the global ISIS threat more broadly when he co-hosts the ministerial meeting in Rome next week.

“Ministers will discuss ways to sustain pressure on ISIS remnants in Iraq and Syria and to counter ISIS networks elsewhere, including in Africa,” the State Department said.

“They will also assess priorities for the coalition’s lines of effort related to stabilisation, foreign terrorist fighters, counter-ISIS financing and counter-messaging efforts.”

The US has led the 83-member coalition against ISIS since the group swept through Iraq and Syria in 2014 to establish a short-lived "caliphate".

There are about 2,500 US troops currently in Iraq and another 900 in Syria as part of the mission to destroy the remnants of the group.

ISIS have also established a significant number of cells throughout Africa in recent years.

The US in March imposed sanctions on two groups in Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo over their ties to ISIS.

On the sidelines of the counter-ISIS ministerial, Mr Blinken will also attend a separate conference devoted exclusively to Syria.

Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of state for European affairs, told reporters that Mr Blinken will “underscore the importance of meeting humanitarian needs” in Syria.

The US has sought to dissuade Russia from using its veto power at the UN to shut down border crossings used to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria – so far to no avail.

As the US seeks to shore up ties with European allies that were damaged under the Trump administration, Mr Blinken will also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

Mr Blinken will discuss ways to further Holocaust remembrance research with Ms Merkel and attend the G20 ministerial meeting in Italy. He will also meet senior officials in Vatican City to discuss the climate crisis.