Kerry in Cairo to push for anti-IS coalition

US secretary of state on latest leg of tour to build "co-ordinated military campaign" against the Islamic State group.

    Kerry in Cairo to push for anti-IS coalition
    US President Barack Obama this week unveiled a rough plan to take on Islamic State group fighters [Reuters]

    US secretary of state, John Kerry, has said that Egypt has a key role to play in the battle against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

    Kerry met the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and foreign minister Sameh Shoukry in Cairo on Saturday on the latest leg of a regional tour to forge a coalition to battle the armed group.

    "It will be our goal ... to degrade and ultimately to defeat ISIL wherever it exists," Kerry said.

    The US says it is "comfortable" it can build an international coalition to fight the Islamic State group, but with Western and Middle Eastern allies hesitant on the specifics, it risks finding itself out on a limb.

    Speaking from Erbil in northern Iraq, Al Jazeera's John Hendren said: "Egypt is a key nation ... because if it ended up looking like a largely western alliance, that would be hauntingly close to the 'coalition of the willing'", the group of countries that invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003.

    "It was very important for Kerry to get Middle Eastern and North African and Islamic nations in particular involved."

    The US president, Barack Obama, this week unveiled a rough plan to combat Islamic State group fighters simultaneously in Iraq and Syria, thrusting the US directly into two different wars in which nearly every country in the region has a stake.

    The broad concept of a coalition has been accepted in Western capitals and on Thursday 10 Arab states, including regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Qatar, signed up to a "co-ordinated military campaign".

    "I'm comfortable that this will be a broad-based coalition with Arab nations, European nations, the United States, others," Kerry said in the Turkish capital Ankara on Friday.

    But he added it was "premature" to set out what tasks individual coalition partners would shoulder.

    Iran ruled out

    US officials have said the coalition will be broad. However, when asked on Friday, Kerry ruled out Iranian involvement as inappropriate due to its support for the regime of Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

    He said there were "any number of reasons" why Iran should not join a Paris conference on Monday to discuss coalition strategy.

    Iran has never offered to join the coalition against Islamic State in Syria, describing it as "shrouded in serious ambiguities". It has sent soldiers to Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government to combat Islamic State fighters there.

    "No one has called me and asked me with respect to the presence of Iran, but I think under the circumstances, at this moment in time, it would not be right for any number of reasons. It would not be appropriate, given the many other issues that are on the table with respect to their engagement in Syria and elsewhere," Kerry said.

    The US on Friday said that it was at war with Islamic State, a day after Obama's statement that strikes against the group were to extend into Syria.

    The comments by Pentagon and White House officials on Friday came as the US president was pressed to clear up doubts about how he saw the conflict with the group, also known as ISIL.

    "The United States is at war with ISIL in the same way that we are at war with al-Qaeda," Josh Earnest, a spokesman for the White House, said.

    Edmund Ghareeb, a political analyst in Washington, told Al Jazeera: "There is a growing recognition on the part of US officials that this battle is not only a military battle ... but there is an ideological component which the United States and its allies need to focus on and emphasise."

    "This is where Egypt could play a role ... as the cultural and intellectual capital of the Arab world."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Reuters


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