U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers opening remarks at the Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2017.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivers opening remarks at the Meeting of the Ministers of the Global Coalition on the Defeat of ISIS at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., March 22, 2017.

STATE DEPARTMENT - In a show of unity against Islamic State terrorism, the U.S. State Department hosted 68 foreign ministers and other leaders from all over the world to discuss their global coalition strategy to defeat the extremist group.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said hard-fought military victories have swung momentum in the coalition's favor, but added that no one can rest while IS remains an active and violent foe.

Tillerson: Degradation Not the Goal, We Must Defeat ISIS

"Degradation of ISIS is not the end goal. We must defeat ISIS," Tillerson said, using the acronym for Islamic State that many diplomats prefer. "I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating ISIS is the United States' number-one goal in the region.

"As we've said before," Tillerson continued, "when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We must continue to keep our focus on the most urgent matter at hand."

Before last year's presidential election, candidate Donald Trump accused President Barack Obama of being weak on terrorism. Obama said Trump's campaign assertions were refuted by the gains U.S. and allied forces were making against Islamic State.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who also addressed the meeting Wednesday in Washington, said the terrorist group has now been "completely decimated" in his country.

WATCH: Tillerson Talks about Uniting Against IS

U.S. seeks allies' contributions

In his speech Wednesday, Tillerson looked beyond the current battlegrounds, asking other countries to boost their contributions once IS fighters have been expelled from Iraq and Syria:

"We must keep making the investment in liberated areas in Iraq and Syria to help innocent people rebuild and stabilize their communities. Right now, this means continuing to clear explosives, restore water and power, deliver humanitarian and resettlement assistance, and forge partnerships with local leaders who reject extremism."

Tillerson noted that the United States has contributed 75 percent of the military resources toward expelling Islamic State forces from Iraq and Syria. Now, he said, U.S. coalition partners should step forward and pay 75 percent of the estimated $2 billion needed this year for stabilization and reconstruction of those areas.

"The United States will do its part, but the circumstances on the ground require more from all of you," the secretary of state told the assembled foreign ministers. "I ask each country to examine how it can best support these vital stabilization efforts, especially in regard to contribution of military and financial resources."



Tillerson said the stabilization phase would include what he called "interim zones of stability" in Iraq and Syria. The goal, he noted, is to allow refugees to return home safely once IS fighters are no longer a threat.

Call for 'humanitarian safe zones'

The interim zones Tillerson mentioned appear to be different from "safe zones" that the Syrian opposition and some allies have long called for — using American air power to protect Syrian civilians.

Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who served in the U.S. Air Force in both Iraq and Afghanistan, told VOA that safe zones are urgently needed, not only to protect besieged Syrian civilians, but also to combat Islamic State: 

"I believe people need to realize that Daesh, ISIS, was created by [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad. He created a safe haven for them in the beginning, he's used them as a way to stay in power and, ultimately, his brutal regime is the biggest recruiting tool for Daesh or ISIS that has ever existed, so ... I think what's important is that we start with humanitarian safe zones. I think it's important that we bring our allies in the region together ... and I think we have to be willing to use the stick, the punishment against Bashar al-Assad for violations of any kind of cease-fire."

Echoing his Republican colleague, Congressman Brendan Boyle, a Democrat, told VOA that the fight against Islamic State is also a battle of ideas:

"First, as far as against ISIS, it's far more complex than just a military operation. It's a fight on social media. It's a fight — yes — on the military field. But it's also a fight when it comes to law enforcement. It's a fight that stretches from suburbs of Paris to senior centers in the West, to Starbucks in East Asia. It is a global fight, and I think it's one that's roughly analogous to the Cold War, actually, in terms of an ideology of freedom and modernity, fighting against an ideology that pretty much stands for everything [that is the] opposite of that."

Tillerson said the global coalition must fight IS online just as aggressively as on the ground, since "a digital caliphate" is just as much an enemy as Islamic State's physical headquarters.

VOA’s Carol Castiel contributed to this report.