U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the Vatican on Monday to meet with Pope Francis and other officials with climate change, human rights and human trafficking among the topics of discussion.
The visit comes ahead of an expected October meeting between the pope and U.S. President Joe Biden, who is the second Catholic to lead the United States.
In addition to meetings with Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the top U.S. diplomat received a tour of the Sala Regia and Sistine Chapel.
Also Monday, Blinken and Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio co-chair a meeting of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS where State Department officials said ministers will discuss maintaining pressure on the militant group in Iraq and Syria while also working to counter affiliates elsewhere in the world.
Patrick Worman, acting director of the U.S. Office of the Special Envoy to Defeat ISIS, told reporters a particular focus of the meeting will be “new challenges ISIS is posing in Africa,” particularly West Africa and the Sahel.
The United States launched a coalition effort, now involving 83 members, aimed at defeating the Islamic State group in 2014 after the militants seized control of a large area across northern Syria and Iraq, and in 2019 declared the militants had been ousted from their last remaining territory.
“ISIS remains a determined enemy,” Worman told reporters. “There is still much work to do in Iraq and Syria, where ISIS continues to conduct attacks and sow fear among local populations.”
Worman said the coalition is working with the Iraqi government, including supporting Iraq’s security forces, to “target remaining ISIS cells, deny ISIS sanctuary, and to eliminate ISIS media, finance, and facilitation networks.”
Worman also highlighted a need to help victims of ISIS atrocities, hold those who committed crimes accountable, and to focus on humanitarian efforts.
Another meeting Monday focuses specifically on Syria, where in addition to issues related to the Islamic State group, Blinken, De Maio and other ministers will focus on renewing efforts to bring an end to the decade-long conflict in Syria.
Humanitarian access, in particular the ability for the United Nations to deliver cross-border aid, will be among the issues Blinken highlights, the State Department said.
He is also expected to discuss U.S. support for an immediate cease-fire in Syria.
“Stability in Syria, and the greater region, can only be achieved through a political process that represents the will of all Syrians,” Acting Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Joey Hood told reporters. “We’re committed to working with allies, partners, and the UN to ensure that a durable political solution remains within reach.”
Efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict, through a combination of halting the fighting and carrying out a political roadmap endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, have seen little progress in recent years.
Hood said the international community “must renew its shared resolve to ensure the protection, dignity, and human rights of the Syrian people.”
Blinken is on a multination tour of Europe, which on Tuesday brings him to Matera, Italy for a meeting of G-20 foreign ministers. The agenda for those talks includes the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and equitable economic recovery.