WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande met privately Tuesday at the White House for the first time since the coordinated terrorist attacks struck Paris on Nov. 13 and resolved to continue their fight against global terrorism.
At a press conference in the East Room following their meeting in the Oval Office, the two presidents pledged their commitment to each other’s country.
“In the faces of the French people, we see ourselves,” Obama said. “And that’s why so many Americans have embraced the blue, white and red. It’s why Americans, at candlelight vigils, have joined together to sing La Marseillaise. We have never forgotten how the French people stood with us after 9/11. And today, we stand with you – nous sommes tous Français.” (We are all French.)
Both Hollande and Obama spoke strongly of their commitment to defeating the Islamic State group, which Hollande referred to as Daesh, an acronym for the group’s name in Arabic.
“Militarily, it is about destroying Daesh no matter where they are,” Hollande said, speaking in French. “We, therefore, decided, President Obama and myself, to scale up our strikes both in Syria and in Iraq, to broaden our scope, to strengthen our intelligence-sharing regarding the targets we must aim at. The priority is to take back key locations in the hands of Daesh in Syria.”
Both presidents said they will not put troops on the ground in Syria, but they will intensify airstrikes in the region, all while squeezing supply lines and arming local groups to fight Daesh
The press conference took place just after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane over the Syrian border. President Vladimir Putin responded by calling it a “stab in the back,” but Turkish military officials said the plane was violating Turkish airspace. One of the two Russian pilots was killed.
Obama and Hollande addressed the incident after being asked by reporters what their reaction was, and what they believe the consequences will be.
“We are still getting the details of what happened,” Obama said, noting that he may speak with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan directly in the coming days. “I do think that this points to a ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense that they are operating very close to a Turkish border, and they are going after a moderate opposition that are supported by not only Turkey but a wide range of countries. And if Russia is directing its energies towards Daesh and ISIL, some of those conflicts, or potentials for mistakes or escalation, are less likely to occur.”
Obama emphasized the importance of ensuring the situation does not escalate, and said that until Russia stops propping up the Assad regime and begins to focus its effort on the Vienna process and on ISIL, then the ability to cooperate will be extremely difficult.
“If their priority is attacking the moderate opposition that might be future members of an inclusive Syrian government, Russia won’t get the support of us or other coalition members,” Obama said.
Asked if there was a specific date for Assad to give up power, Hollande said, “It must be as soon as possible.”
“There is a new mindset now,” Hollande said. “The crisis has been ongoing for four years — four years. There are probably more than 300,000 dead. It is relevant to Europe and the entire world now with that issue of refugees.”
The Vienna talks on Syria that took place Nov. 14 called for a ceasefire, followed by a transitional government in Syria with elections to be held by 2017. Jordan will take the lead in determining who is part of legitimate opposition inside Syria and who are the terrorists that will be weeded out.
“In Vienna, we are already working with all of the countries – even though they do not necessarily, they do not have the same stance – Turkey, Iran, Gulf countries, the United States, France, and of course all of those who are meant to find a solution,” Hollande said. “But we must work on that transition, a transition where Bashar al-Assad plays no role. Because he’s been the problem, so he cannot be the solution.”
“Russia right now is a coalition of two, Iran and Russia, supporting Assad,” Obama said. “Given Russia’s military capabilities and given the influence they have on the Assad regime, them cooperating would be enormously helpful in bringing about a resolution of the civil war in Syria, and allow us all to refocus our attention on ISIL.”
In his message of ensuring that U.S. and France not lose sight of shared values, Obama was quick to note that France will take in 30,000 Syrian refugees, a subject that has been heatedly contested in American politics this past week.
“Here in the United States, refugees coming to America go through up to two years of intense security checks, including biometric screening,” Obama said. “Nobody who sets foot in America goes through more screening than refugees. And we’re prepared to share these tools with France and our European partners.”
Obama concluded with the reading of the words on the Statue of Liberty — a gift from France and a reminder of American spirit, and what binds the U.S. and France together.
“We have prevailed because our way of life is stronger,” Obama said. “Because we stay united. Because even as we are relentless in the face of evil, we draw on what’s best in ourselves and in the character of our countries. It will be no different this time. Make no mistake, we will win, and groups like ISIL will lose.”
Reach reporter Heather Khalifa at [email protected] or 202-408-1488. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram.
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