The government is preparing to send External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to Syria next week, in what would be the first foreign minister’s trip to the strife-torn country since conflict broke out in 2011. This comes at a time when the US is preparing to conduct strikes in Syria over use of chemical weapons by the Bashar al-Assad government.
When asked about the visit, Syrian ambassador to India Riad Abbas confirmed that Swaraj will be travelling to Syria next week. “Yes, the External affairs minister will be travelling to Syria next week,” he told The Indian Express. She is likely to go around September 14.
Swaraj, along with Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on Thursday will hold talks with the visiting US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo and US Defence secretary James Mattis. While the Syrian issue is not on the agenda, sources said that they would not rule it out from being discussed. “In the light of new facts, it may come up during discussions”, a source said.
Swaraj is expected to the joint commission meeting with her Syrian counterpart, Foreign Minister Walid Al Moualem, who had visited India in January ‘2016.
The visit assumes importance in view of the situation in war-torn Syria, where more than 300,000 people have been killed in the past four years and seven million have fled to other countries.
Mattis, the US Defence secretary told reporters in Delhi that the US has “zero intelligence” that shows the opposition has any chemical capability.
“We have made very clear that by putting out innuendo that somehow any chemical weapon use coming up in the future could be ascribed to the opposition, well, we want to see the data,” Mattis said. “We cannot see anything that indicates the opposition has that capability.” He said instead there was a history of Assad’s government using such weapons.
U.S. President Donald Trump has twice ordered U.S.-led strikes against targets in Syria in response to what Washington called the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.
However, Swaraj’s visit will look at trying to revive the commercial links and providing humanitarian assistance to Syria. Minister of State (external affairs) M J Akbar had earlier visited Syria in August ‘2016, the only high-level visit in the NDA government, followed by an official-level visit by joint secretary (west Asia and north Africa) in Ministry of External affairs.