BEIRUT – Syria said Monday it was ready to help confront the rising threat from the Islamic State group, but warned the United States against carrying out airstrikes without Damascus’ consent, saying any such attack would be considered an aggression.
In seeking to portray itself as a partner for the international community, Syria seemed intent on capitalizing on the growing clamor among some U.S. officials, including military leaders, to expand the current American air campaign against the Islamic extremists in Iraq and to hit them in Syria as well.
President Barack Obama has long been wary of getting dragged into the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the United Nations says has killed more than 190,000 people. He has resisted intervening militarily in the conflict, even after a deadly chemical weapons attack a year ago that Washington blamed on President Bashar Assad’s government. But the extremist group’s rampage across wide swaths of Iraq, declaration of a state governed by their harsh interpretation of Islamic law in territory spanning the Iraq-Syria border, and grisly beheading of an American journalist, have injected a new dynamic into those calculations. Now, Obama faces pressure from his own military leaders to go after the extremists inside Syria.
Speaking in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem appeared acutely aware of how much has changed since last August, when the U.S. was threatening to carry out punitive airstrikes against Assad’s government in the wake of the chemical attack.
Since then, global disapproval has shifted away from Assad and toward the Islamic extremists who are fighting him and spreading destruction across Syria and Iraq. Al-Moallem told reporters his government is ready “to cooperate and coordinate” with any side, including the U.S., or join any regional or international alliance against the Islamic State group. But he said any military action inside Syria should be coordinated with the Syrian government.
“Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression,” he said.
He said Damascus has warned repeatedly of the threat of terrorism and the need to cut off resources and funding, but “no one listened to us.” Syria’s government has long described the rebels fighting to topple Assad as “terrorists” in a foreign conspiracy. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also said Western nations that long refused to condemn Assad’s enemies were now coming to realize the threat posed by the Islamic State group.
The West, he said, will “have to choose what is more important: to change the regime and satisfy personal antipathies with the risk that the situation will crumble, or find pragmatic ways to join efforts against the common threat, which is the same for all of us – terrorism.”