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Obama Says Russia Faces Strategic Choice as Assad Can't Stay

Obama Says Russia Faces Strategic Choice as Assad Can't Stay
 

Monday, 23 November 2015 08:23 AM

President Obama said Russia must make a strategic decision about Syria and the next several weeks will show whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will give up backing the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to join in a broad campaign against Islamic State.

The U.S. won’t in any circumstances agree to a political settlement for the civil war in Syria that leaves Assad in power because he’s lost all legitimacy, Obama said. As long as Assad stays there is no way to unite the country’s various factions for the fight against Islamic State.

“It would not work to keep him in power,’’ Obama said at a news conference Sunday in Kuala Lumpur. “This is a practical issue, not just a matter of conscience.’’

There is an increasing awareness on the Putin’s part that the extremist group is a much bigger threat to Russia than losing an embattled ally in Assad or anything else in the region, Obama said.

The U.S. and its allies will press ahead with their battle against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq with or without Russia’s cooperation, he said. Discussions will continue in Vienna searching for a political solution.

“Russia has not officially committed to a transition of Assad moving out but they did agree to a political transition process,” Obama said. “And I think we’ll find out over the next several weeks whether or not we can bring about that change in perspective with the Russians.”

French President Francois Hollande will visit Obama at the White House on Tuesday before visiting Moscow on Thursday, part of the French leader’s efforts to unify the U.S. and Russia in the fight against Islamic State. In the days since the group claimed responsibility for attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, Hollande has called for the U.S. and Russia to begin coordinating efforts in Iraq and Syria.

Like France, Russia has been a target of Islamic State terrorism. A Russian passenger jet was blown out of the sky over Egypt in an attack blamed on the group.

 

Hollande has seized on international outrage over the downed jet and attacks in Paris to try to galvanize a more robust global campaign against extremists. While agreeing to increase intelligence sharing with the French since the Paris attacks, the U.S. tempered expectations that is now ready to join forces with Russia in the skies over Syria.

Obama said the attacks must not be allowed to cause a distorted reaction that would only play into the terrorists’ goals.

“We will not accept the idea that terrorist assaults on restaurants, theaters or hotels are the new normal,’’ he said. “We will not give into fear or turning on each other.’’

Diplomats from the U.S., Russia, Iran and several other countries have agreed on plan for a political transition in Syria that would yield talks between the government of Assad and opposition forces by Jan. 1. Elections would take place within 18 months, under the proposal.

Obama’s comments came after more than a week of conferences and summits in Asia that were dominated by the battle against terrorism. Obama and Putin spoke last week at the Group of 20 summit in Turkey, a 35-minute meeting that the White House described as constructive.

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President Obama said Russia must make a strategic decision about Syria and the next several weeks will show whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will give up backing the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad to join in a broad campaign against Islamic State.
Obama, Russia, Putin, Assad, Syria
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2015-23-23
Monday, 23 November 2015 08:23 AM
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