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June 29, 2021

Secretary Antony J. Blinken Opening Remarks at D-ISIS Meeting Opening Session

FOREIGN MINISTER DI MAIO:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Mr. Secretary of State, dear Tony, dear colleagues, dear guests, welcome.  Welcome to Italy.  (Via interpreter) I’m delighted to welcome you here to Rome, to the ministerial meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which I have the privilege of co-chairing with Secretary of State Blinken.  I wish to thank my colleague and friend Tony and the State Department for the excellent teamwork and the partnership with the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation which has brought us here.  The pandemic has shown us that only if we focus on multilateralism and international cooperation that we can adequately tackle the challenges ahead.

And this coalition is an example.  It brings together different continents.  It capitalizes on the contribution of each member.  It is flexible enough to take into account different viewpoints.  We have a good track record but a lot more remains to be done.  Daesh was defeated in its territorial dimension, but it hasn’t been uprooted, and that is why Italy, with over 800 units between Iraq and Kuwait, will continue to – while respecting Iraqi sovereignty and in agreement with the Baghdad agreement – will continue to keep its presence in support of local institutions so as to enable the country to tackle this threat autonomously.

We are also ready to increase our participation in the NATO commission in Iraq and to take over the command after Denmark.  Having consolidated our victory is important – consolidating it in Syria is essential in order to bolster the country’s stabilization.  That is why we support the 2254 resolution and the UN-guided operation.

The attacks in these recent months show that Daesh can still be a threat and attract certain segments of the population.  In order to consolidate the results achieved and limit the recruitment possibilities of Daesh and avoid its resurgence, we have to include civil initiatives to de-radicalize and stabilize the freed areas, giving social, economic conditions and opportunities to the local population so as to make them less vulnerable.  We are promoting these initiatives bearing in mind the key principles of our international approach, safeguarding human rights and the rule of law being our topmost priorities.

Despite the financial context, which has been worsened due to the pandemic, Italy is unswerving in its commitment in 2021.  We have planned to increase the resources earmarked for these activities.  Furthermore, we believe it is important to assess (inaudible) initiatives in favor of unaccompanied minors in (inaudible) camp, and to this end we are also in touch with players in the field.

Given the complexity and comprehensive nature of this problem, we need to work together in a joint approach.  We have to also take a comprehensive and targeted approach to dry up financial resources in the areas of activity of ISIS and in other parts of the world.  This is the aim of the Counter ISIS Finance Group, which Italy co-chairs with the United State and Saudi Arabia.

Although the Daesh threat in Iraq and Syria is key in our coalition’s commitment, we must also take into consideration its global presence in the African continent and in the Sahel in particular.  The stability of this region is crucial for Europe and the broader Mediterranean.  I would like to thank the representatives from Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mozambique who have accepted our invitation to attend today’s meeting as observers.

Italy will do its part.  It will be committed to promoting peace and sustainable development in this area which is a priority for our foreign policy action.  As I confirmed in our – my recent missions in the region, we will continue to reinforce our diplomatic presence, take part in main international missions, and make a contribution for a sustainable approach to migration via capacity building.

Given the growing threat stemming from Daesh in Africa, I would like to propose to my coalition partners to take into account the possibility of creating a working group or a platform that can focus specifically on Africa.  Such an initiative would also enable us to involve all African countries interested in making a contribution to our mutual benefit.

In concluding, I would like to renew my warm welcome to all in Italy.  I am confident that your remarks will be extremely helpful in bringing forward the discussion, and I would like to now call on the co-chair of the meeting, Antony Blinken. Secretary of State, over to you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Mr. Foreign Minister, Luigi, my friend, thank you so much.  And thank you for the extraordinary job in bringing us all together, and it’s wonderful to be with so many colleagues today.  Mostly, thank you for hosting what is a very important meeting.  And to all of the members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS or Daesh, thank you for being part of this endeavor today, but also every day.

Since this coalition was created in 2014, our joint efforts by, with, and through our local partners have been a critical element in achieving ISIS’s territorial defeat in Iraq and in Syria.  Millions of civilians have been able to return to their homes.  The movement of foreign ISIS fighters from – into Syria and Iraq has virtually ceased.  And key ISIS leaders have either been captured or killed.  These achievements are significant and a reflection of what’s possible when we come together in common cause with a shared commitment.

But there is still more work to be done, and let me briefly outline what the United States sees as our top priorities now.  I think it will sound very familiar because it’s very much on track with what Luigi just said.  First, remaining ISIS elements in Iraq and Syria, though severely depleted, still aspire to conduct large-scale attacks, as we saw with January’s twin suicide bombings in Baghdad.  To sustain our military gains, we must reaffirm our commitment, including to Operation Inherent Resolve, the complementary NATO mission in Iraq, and to civilian-led counterterrorism capacity building.

Second, we must renew coalition support for stabilization assistance across Iraq and Syria, as Luigi said, to ensure that ISIS doesn’t have a resurgence in these countries.  Our stabilization assistance will address critical needs that the Syrians themselves have prioritized, deal with vulnerabilities previously exploited by ISIS, close gaps in local authorities’ capacities.  Those needs are particularly acute given the drought and economic downturn in Syria, which ISIS is seeking to exploit.

We’ve made good progress toward our 2021 fundraising goal for stabilization efforts in Iraq and northeast Syria.  We set out to raise $670 million.  I think we’re at close to $507 million now, so let’s keep going till we meet our goal.  Additionally, I can announce today that the United States will provide another $436 million in humanitarian assistance to Syrians and the communities that host them, bringing the total U.S. humanitarian assistance in response to the Syria crisis to nearly $13.5 billion.  Together we must stay as committed to our stabilization goals as we did to our military campaign that resulted in victory on the battlefield.

Third, 10,000 ISIS fighters remain in SDF detention in Syria.  This situation is simply untenable.  It just can’t persist indefinitely.  The United States continues to urge countries of origin, including coalition partners, to repatriate, rehabilitate, and, where applicable, prosecute their citizens.  Several countries have done good work on these fronts.  Kazakhstan has repatriated more than 600 fighters and family members and has enrolled many returnees in rehabilitation programs.  Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz Republic have repatriated foreign terrorist fighter family members from Iraq, and in the case of Uzbekistan, from Syria and Afghanistan as well.  Several Balkan countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, North Macedonia have also repatriated foreign terrorist fighters.  And Italy, of course, has distinguished itself as one of the few Western European countries willing to return nationals from the region.  Most recently, they repatriated a female foreign terrorist fighter and her children.  Finland has also shown leadership in its repatriation of multiple families from Finland originally.

Fourth, ensuring the enduring defeat of ISIS also means effectively confronting ISIS threats outside of Iraq and Syria, in the place where ISIS – places where ISIS has recently focused its efforts.  In particular, we’re grateful for support from coalition partners for expanding counterterrorism capacity building efforts for countries on the front lines of the ISIS threat in Africa.  And again, I strongly support what the foreign minister said in that regard.  Let’s use today’s discussion to try to expand on coalition plans for effectively dealing with the threat in Africa, as well as how we’ll synchronize our efforts with national, regional, and international partners.

To recap some recent steps the coalition has taken very briefly, last November the United States and Nigeria convened a coalition meeting with representatives of West African states to discuss countering the ISIS threat in West Africa and the Sahel.  We’ve also held informal discussions among coalition partners on the pressing ISIS threat in northern Mozambique and the steps that we could take there.  Several of the coalition’s working groups are expanding their focus to include Africa.  For example, the Communications Working Group recently proposed an Africa framework paper to guide the coalition’s approach to countering ISIS in Africa in the information space by undermining the brand, exposing the recruitment narrative, increasing opportunities for dialogue, sharing positive alternative narratives to ISIS.

This is a vitally important effort.  We are seeing – I know you all know this – we are seeing fighters of 13 and 14 years old take up weapons to kill people, and we have to get at this from every possible angle.  And information work is vitally important.  We urge more coalition working groups – for example, the Counter-ISIS Finance Group – to follow suit and pay additional attention to ISIS and its – the problem it poses in Africa.

And recent coalition expansion efforts have focused on African nations, with the Central African Republic and Mauritania joining as our 82nd and 83rd members.  We’ll continue to encourage key frontline states and regional leaders in Africa to consider becoming members of this coalition.

On a final related note today, the United States is announcing the designation of Ousmane Illiassou Djibo as a specially designated global terrorist. Djibo is a senior leader and key lieutenant in ISIS Greater Sahara.  This designation is part of our continuing effort to counter ISIS financing in Africa.

Let me just conclude by saying how grateful the United States is for your partnership and commitment to defeating ISIS in Iraq, in Syria, everywhere in the world.  We’ve made great progress because we’ve been working together.  So we hope to keep our eye on the fight, to keep up the fight against this terrorist organization until it is decisively defeated.  Thank you very much.