Key Arab allies of the United States pledged Thursday to help in the battle against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants, promising to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and possibly to join military action.
NATO member Turkey refused to join its Arab neighbours in the public expression of support, signalling the struggle the West faces in trying to get nations on the front lines to put aside their regional animosities and work together against a common enemy.
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The announcement followed a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts in the Red Sea coastal city of Jiddah. His visit, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was aimed at pinning down the support regional allies are willing to give to U.S. plans to beat back ISIS, which has seized large chunks of Iraq and Syria.
In remarks to reporters after the meeting, Kerry noted the "particularly poignant day" for the discussions.
"The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and to so many of our friends and allies around the world," Kerry said of the attacks 13 years ago on the U.S. "Those consequences are felt every day here in the Middle East."
Allies willing to fight ISIS in Iraq, Syria
The meeting ended with Saudi Arabia, other Gulf states, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon pledging in a joint statement "to do their share" to stand against terrorism. They promised steps including stopping fighters and funding, repudiating ISIS's ideology, providing humanitarian aid and "as appropriate, joining in the many aspects of a co-ordinated military campaign."
They also agreed to boost support for the new Iraqi government as it tries to unite its citizens in the fight against the militants, and to devise strategies to "destroy" the group "wherever it is, including in both Iraq and Syria."
'The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and to so many of our friends and allies around the world.' - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said coalition members agreed to share responsibilities for fighting the Islamic State group, as well as to "be serious and continuous in our action to eliminate and wipe out all these terrorist organizations."
Turkey also attended the meeting but did not sign the final communique.
The NATO ally had been asked to secure its borders to prevent oil smuggling out of Iraq and Syria and keep foreign fighters from heading in. But Ankara has been reluctant to take a prominent role in the coalition, in part out of concern for the 49 Turkish citizens who were kidnapped from the Turkish consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when it was overrun by ISIS fighters in June.
A senior State Department official predicted the U.S. will continue to work with Turkey to repel the insurgents' threat, and said Ankara is in a difficult position as it tries to protect the hostages. The official was not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Greater regional support is seen as key to combating the spread of ISIS, which has proved so ruthless that even al-Qaeda severed ties with it earlier this year. Nearly 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the group.
Regional squabbling complicates united front
On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama laid out a long-term U.S. strategy that would include expanding airstrikes against ISIS fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants.
Some Gulf states could in theory take an active role in helping with airstrikes, as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar did in the U.S.-led aerial campaign over Libya in 2011 that helped lead to the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. Gulf nations could also assist with arms, training, intelligence and logistics.
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Saudi Arabia's willingness to host the meeting is significant given the OPEC kingpin's role as a political and economic heavyweight and its custodianship of Islam's holiest sites.
Squabbling among Washington's allies in the region has complicated efforts to present a united front to beat back the militants.
Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt are at odds with Qatar and Turkey because of the latter two countries' support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in the region.
Egypt's foreign minister, Sameh Shukri, emphasized that rift in his opening remarks, saying regional chaos is the result of a number of factors, including the tolerance of some in the region and the West for "so-called political Islam" — a clear dig at supporters of the Brotherhood.
American officials have voiced concerns too about the willingness of Kuwait and Qatar to crack down on private fundraising for extremist groups.
A senior State Department official told reporters ahead of the Saudi meeting that Kerry would ask Mideast countries to encourage government-controlled media and members of the religious establishment to speak out against extremism.
The U.S. already has launched more than 150 airstrikes against militants in Iraq over the past month, and has sent military advisers and millions of dollars in humanitarian aid, including an additional $48 million announced Wednesday.
The Mideast diplomatic push comes ahead of a conference set for Monday in Paris on how to stabilize Iraq. That meeting will include officials from the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China, and could also include other nations, possibly even Iran.