UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Syria’s foreign minister said Friday that airstrikes alone will not be successful against the Islamic State group unless they are coordinated with the Syrian government, as the international community scrambled to respond to Russia’s new airstrikes in his country.
Addressing the summit of world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly, Walid al-Moallem said Russia’s decision to start bombing targets was based on the request of the Syrian government and is effective because it supports Syria’s efforts to combat terrorism.
He pledged to continue the war against “terror” while also committing to a political track to end Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year.
Al-Moallem announced Syria will participate in UN-led working groups toward a 3rd round of peace talks in Geneva.
The United States, which opposes Syrian President Bashar Assad, has questioned Moscow’s assertion that it is targeting Islamic terrorists in Syria, saying the areas hit close to Homs are strongholds of the moderate opposition to Assad. Allies in the U.S.-led coalition have called on Russia to cease attacks on the Syrian opposition and to focus on fighting Islamic State militants.
Al-Moallem stressed that working groups proposed by the U.N.’s special envoy on Syria, Staffan de Mistura, are non-binding. The foreign minister described them as “brainstorming” sessions meant to prepare for the launch of new peace talks sometime in the future.
But he added “How can we ask the Syrian people to head to the ballot box while they are not safe in the streets?”
World leaders also tried to address the crises in Libya and Yemen with high-level meetings on Friday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Libya’s two rival governments to come together and make the final step toward a peace deal.
But talks between representatives of the two governments on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering of world leaders have not yet resulted in a signed agreement, even as a U.N.-set deadline of Oct. 2 approaches.
Ban said a final draft is in the two sides’ hands, and “the time for reopening the text has passed.” He said the U.N. envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon, has assured him that the parties “remain committed and will not go back on their word.”
Kerry told the meeting that he hopes the process can be “completed in a very small number of days,” and he urged the two sides to agree on who will lead a national unity government.
The oil-rich north African country has slid into turmoil since the 2011 overthrow and killing of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
Also addressing the General Assembly on Friday was interim Burkina Faso President Michel Kafando, who was arrested by members of the elite presidential guard during a short-lived coup and then released last month.
Kafando praised the preciousness of liberty, “as I was deprived of this for a time,” and he pledged that free and transparent elections will be organized “shortly.”