WASHINGTON: The United States Thursday sought to galvanize global action to combat violent jihadist groups, amid warnings the world was confronted with “a new war against a new enemy.”
Gathering ministers from over 60 countries on the third and final day of a White House summit, President Barack Obama pledged Washington would be “a strong partner” to help neutralize groups such as Islamic State (IS).
Governments must remain “unwavering in our fight against terrorist organizations,” Obama said, vowing to work with fragile nations such as Yemen and Somalia to “prevent ungoverned spaces where terrorists find safe haven.”
He also laid out a list of priorities to help defeat the “warped ideologies” espoused by groups like IS and Al-Qaeda.
— Governments must deepen cooperation against foreign fighters
— Nations must seek to end sectarian tensions and conflicts, such as in Syria
— Major powers must address differences through dialogue, not proxy wars
— Funding must be cut off to groups fueling hatred
— Economic and political grievances must be addressed to allow growth and development
— Expand education and opportunity for all, especially women
— Promote democracy and free elections.
But amid all the talk and despite US assurances that the summit was aimed at drafting an action plan for going forward, few concrete steps were unveiled in Washington.
Indeed, Obama challenged nations to bring their ideas to the UN general assembly in September.
He was lambasted by the Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security committee Michael McCaul who said it had been “a summit without substance.”
“Instead of a real plan for rolling back and defeating Islamist terrorist groups, we got empty rhetoric from the president and the announcement of ‘new’ initiatives that are really a rehash of old programs,” McCaul said in a statement.
However, many summit participants promised to take up the baton by organizing further meetings to build a strategy.
As a first step, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he would gather faith leaders from around the world warning that the “emergence of a new generation of transnational terrorist groups… is a grave threat to international peace and security.”
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh revealed Arab nations were planning to meet to “formulate a unified common Arab, Muslim stance” to what he called an “unprecedented threat.”
“The war against extremism and radical ideology is our war,” said Judeh, again condemning the murder of a captured Jordanian pilot burned alive by IS last month.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry condemned the militant groups as “an affront to Islam.” Cairo launched air strikes on jihadist targets in Libya this week after IS militants beheaded 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians.
“In the end the responsibility to confront the violent ideology lies with Muslims themselves,” Shoukry said. “The key to success lies in denying the terrorists the legitimacy they seek.”
The US administration said it would step up information-sharing to thwart would-be foreign fighters, and pledged to boost cooperation with Interpol.
Washington was also joining with the United Arab Emirates to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society leaders to counter extremist propaganda.
Observers say some 20,000 foreign fighters have left their homelands to join extremist groups in the past few years — an estimated 4,000 alone since 2012 from western Europe.
Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard thanked participants for the “heartwarming” outpouring of support after a weekend attack on a Copenhagen synagogue. But he sounded a note of caution.
“It is difficult for modern man and modern society to deal with merciless cruelty… by persons devoid of reason and compassion, but we must. Our response must be based on trust, not mistrust. We have to react but we should not over-react.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged most of the work to try to stop the extremists would be done “without fanfare” quietly in classrooms, community halls and on street corners.
“Military force alone won’t achieve victory,” Kerry warned Thursday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
“Today we are asked to wage a new war against a new enemy. The battlefield is different, and so are the weapons that we need to overcome that enemy and triumph.”