(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday he backed diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the Syrian civil war, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives over more than six years of conflict, as Islamic State militants near defeat.
Mattis was traveling to Finland to meet with leaders from the Northern Group, a forum for 12 northern European countries, where concern about Russia is growing after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine and gave its backing to eastern Ukraine separatists fighting against the Kiev government.
Russia also supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and with its help Assad has recovered control of swathes of lost Syrian territory over the last two years and appears militarily unassailable.
The United States, however, has supported the opposition to Assad during the Syrian war. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently reiterated that Assad should leave power, saying the "reign of the Assad family is coming to an end" and "the only issue is how that should be brought about."