Koenders on Russian air strikes in Syria: ‘Efforts must serve same purpose’

In the margins of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly, foreign minister Bert Koenders discussed the situation in Syria at length with several parties, including US secretary of state John Kerry, EU foreign ministers, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and a group of Syrian women activists.

‘The fight against terrorism concerns us all. That’s why a coalition of more than 60 countries, including the Netherlands, has joined forces against ISIS. In view of our common interests, constructive Russian involvement could help in the fight against ISIS. But that involvement should not serve to boost Assad’s position or further complicate the road to a political solution,’ Mr Koenders said. ‘That would only increase the Syrian people’s suffering, and result in more terrorism and more people fleeing their homes.’

Initial reports cause for concern

‘Our efforts must serve the same purpose,’ the minister continued. ‘We must be absolutely clear on that. There have been alarming reports that the Russian air strikes have been aimed at least partly at areas in Syria where ISIS forces are not active at all. That would be a grave cause for concern.’

The minister said: ‘It’s necessary to deconflict all military operations in the region. And every effort should be made to avoid civilian casualties. It’s also vital that Russia use its influence with the Assad regime to convince them to engage in a political process. Here in New York and elsewhere, countries are calling on Russia to do so. The latest developments underscore the urgency of a greater diplomatic effort.’