WASHINGTON , President Barack Obama reaffirmed Tuesday the United States’ commitment to France and leading an international campaign against the Islamic State, but stopped short of supporting a French-proposed coalition that would include Russia.
Obama, in a joint news conference with French President Francois Hollande, said there is no plot to exclude Russia from the broad-base coalition to take out the IS, but Moscow has been “focused on propping [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad] rather than focusing on ISIL.”
For his part, Hollande said he plans to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week France will work with Russia if the military action focuses on ridding Syria of the Islamic State — also identified as Daesh, ISIS and ISIL. He wants Russia to commit to a political solution in Syria, but will work with all countries willing to find solutions to Syria’s civil war and militant groups active in the country.
“We want to gather all countries. We do not want to exclude anyone,” Hollande said. “But we want to make sure this political solution can eradicate terrorism.”
Hollande’s stop in Washington, D.C., is part of his whirlwind diplomatic tour to garner support from a broader coalition following the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris that left some 129 dead. Monday, he met with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called for Britain to join the ranks of those already bombing Islamic State’s home base, Syria. Hollande will also meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the coming days.
Hollande plans to meet with Putin in two days, talks that are bound to be more complicated since Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet Tuesday near the Syrian border, claiming it had violated Turkish airspace and ignored repeated warnings. Russia said it was downed by ground artillery fire, but Turkey said its F-16s fired on it. Putin called Turkey’s decision a “stab in the back.”
Obama said Turkey “has the right to defend its territory and its airspace,” adding Russia’s targeting of moderate opposition groups does nothing to quell the spread of the IS. He said Russia should focus its airstrikes on the terrorist group so mistakes are “less likely to occur.”
Obama said the United States and France will continue to share threat information together and with coalition nations, and called on the European Union to implement an agreement that would require airlines to share passenger flight information.
The United States has repeatedly questioned Russia’s involvement in Syria, condemning the country for supporting Assad. The United States and France have said Assad must eventually lose power as part of a political transition, arguing violence will continue from forces besides the IS who are opposed to Assad’s continued rule. On Monday, Putin and Iran’s Islamic leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,jointly stated only the Syrian people have the right to remove Assad and expressed doubt about the Obama administration’s trustworthiness.