ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — US Vice President Joe Biden said on Monday Washington was going to have to “squeeze the heart of” the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq to wipe it out.
“We have to squeeze the heart of Daesh in Iraq and Syria so they can’t continue to pump the poison in the region and the rest of the world,” he said, using an Arab acronym for IS.
Biden was speaking to hundreds of American and allied soldiers inside a hangar at a military base in the United Arab Emirates.
“This fight is going to take time, but we are committed to seeing it through until we wipe out this evil — and we will wipe out this evil,” Biden said.
Earlier, the vice president ruled out a military solution to end Syria’s conflict and called for a political transition.
“That should be clear to everyone,” Biden told Abu Dhabi newspaper The National at the start of his visit to the UAE ahead of traveling to Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
“So as hard as it is, we have to keep trying to reach a political settlement,” he said.
Saudi Arabia, which backs the Syrian opposition, and ally the UAE have said they are willing to send ground troops to Syria under US command to battle IS.
Biden’s comments come as President Bashar Assad’s regime and its opponents are due this week to resume UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva as a fragile ceasefire holds in Syria.
The talks are aimed at ending the five-year Syria war that has killed more than 270,000 people, displaced millions and devastated the country.
Sticking point: Assad’s fate
The fate of Assad, who is refusing to step down, has been one of the main sticking points in talks.
“A political solution between the parties is the only way to end the violence and give the Syrian people the chance they deserve to rebuild their country. To create a credible, inclusive, and non-sectarian system, a new constitution and free and fair elections,” Biden said.
He said the truce that went into effect in Syria on February 27 “seems to be holding,” but was “not perfect.”
But he also noted that “levels of violence have dropped significantly across the country,” and said this opened the way for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid.
Biden also praised US relations with the UAE and its partners in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman.
He acknowledged the “challenges” posed by the nuclear deal struck last year between Iran and world powers and also the concerns it raised in GCC countries that are wary of Tehran.
“That’s why we worked so hard to achieve a nuclear agreement with Iran, because as dangerous as Iran’s actions are, they would be exponentially greater if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon,” Biden said.
He said steps were being taken to bolster the security of the GCC monarchies to be able to “deal with Iran diplomatically from a position of strength.”
Biden was to hold talks later Monday with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and on Tuesday with Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.
Earlier Monday, Biden visited Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, pausing outside to remove his black dress shoes in keeping with Islamic custom.
He examined a wall in the ornate mosque bearing the 99 names of God written in Arabic before stepping outside to wave at visiting tourists kept a short distance away.
Accompanying Biden on the mosque tour was its director-general, Yousif Abdallah Alobaidli, and Minister of State Reem al-Hashimi.
Biden also visited Masdar City, a government-backed clean energy campus on the capital’s outskirts, taking a few moments to talk to Shefaa Mansour, a student from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, studying at the affiliated Masdar Institute.
He later looked at a model of a desalination plant, something crucial to the Emirates, which experts warn may run out of groundwater in the next 15 years. Emirati Minister of State Sultan al-Jaber handed him a bottle of water made at the plant.
The vice president looked at it, then smiled.
“Now make sure I’m still standing,” he said. “Watch what happens when I take the first sip. I’m more energized.”
Biden took a drink, paused for a moment and added: “Do you need a partner? I’m out of a job soon.”