President Donald Trump’s embattled immigration ban has continued to spark outrage, frustration and claims that the U.S. government is abandoning refugees in their time of need, but comments from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday seemed to indicate that the administration will indeed offer some sort of additional aid to those fleeing the Islamic State.
Tillerson said before a group of 68 countries and organizations who came together in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to discuss battling the Islamic State that “interim zones of stability” would be created to assist these individuals, Reuters reported.
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“The United States will increase our pressure on ISIS and al Qaeda and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through ceasefires, to allow refugees to return home,” he said. “I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating ISIS is the United States’ number one goal in the region.”
This has understandably created some chatter, considering that any safe zone or similar proposal would potentially bring the U.S. into greater military involvement in Syria and Iraq, as battles against the Islamic State forge on in the region.
Tillerson gave no details on where or how these zones would be set up or secured.
Officials with the 68-member coalition told Foreign Policy that the zones Tillerson mentioned would be centered in lands that were recaptured from the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq and would involve a mix of forces that has not yet been determined. A State Department official also told the outlet that overall details are not yet known.
The Washington Post, though, drew a distinction between “safe zones” that are protected by air and land and “interim zones of stability,” reiterating that these areas would be the lands that were cleared of the Islamic State already rather than unrelated land designated as a safe zone, though it is unclear how security would differ for these related concepts.
The Los Angeles Times speculated that the language “suggests creation of no-fly zones to protect refugees in northern Syria.”
Criticism of this apparent plan is, of course, in no short supply; you can read what people on both sides of the discussion have to say here. Interestingly, while the Obama administration opposed no-fly zones, both Trump and former Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton favored creating them in the region, according to The Washington Post.
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In addition to the interim zones, Tillerson pledged that the U.S. will “do its part,” but also called on members of the coalition to play an increased role in helping tackle the ongoing challenges in the region, The Washington Post reported.
“Circumstances on the ground require more from all of you,” he said. “I ask each country to examine how it can best support stabilization efforts.”
Tillerson’s comments came as Trump remains under fire for a revised executive order he issued earlier this month that removed Iraq from the initial list of seven countries from which immigration to the U.S. will be temporarily halted. The countries that remain on that list are Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.
Like the original order, the refugee program would have been suspended for 120 days, and people traveling to the U.S. from the aforementioned countries who didn’t secure a visa before Jan. 27, would have been banned for 90 days, as Fox News reported.
But the order, much like the first one, has been halted by the courts, at least for now.
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