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Foreign Affairs

Tillerson, Other G7 Foreign Ministers To Meet In Italy, With Syria On Agenda

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has arrived in Italy for a meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations, with a special session scheduled to discuss the crisis in Syria.

Tillerson and other foreign ministers, who are meeting in regular session on April 10, will convene on April 11 at 8 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) to discuss Syria, Italian news agencies reported.

Along with the G7 members, the foreign ministers of Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Qatar are also scheduled to take part in the special session.

The G7 consists of the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, Italy, France, and Canada. Russia was part of the G8, but it was ejected in 2014 after its illegal annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

News agencies quoted Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano as saying the session devoted to Syria was called in an effort to prevent a "dangerous military escalation" in the six-year-old conflict.

The meeting follows a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian air base on April 7 -- a response to Damascus' alleged chemical weapons attack on its own citizens.

Tillerson is likely to be grilled by his G7 counterparts to clearly set out U.S. policy in Syria.

U.S. President Donald Trump suggested during the 2016 campaign that his administration would be less interventionist than predecessors and would ease the emphasis on global human rights abuses.

While many U.S. allies voiced support for missile strike, they are wondering whether it signals a major policy change and whether Washington is prioritizing the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as a requirement for peace in the war-torn country.

"The Americans say they agree, but there's nothing to show for it behind [the scenes]. They are absent from this and are navigating aimlessly in the dark," Reuters news agency quoted a senior European diplomat who declined to be named.

The Sunday Times newspaper in London reported on April 10 that Britain will push for new sanctions on Russia if it refuses to cut ties to Assad.

The Times reported that U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wants the G7 to issue a joint declaration that Russia should end its support for the Assad regime and remove its forces from Syria to allow the return of humanitarian aid convoys.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses, new sanctions on Russia should be imposed, aimed at making life very difficult for government figures, the report said.

After the G7 gathering in the Italian town of Lucca, Tillerson is scheduled to move on to Moscow for discussions with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Russia, along with Iran, supports the government of Assad, while the United States and Turkey back antigovernment rebels.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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