Obama tells Russia, Turkey to focus on IS

1st December 2015, Comments 0 comments

US President Barack Obama led calls Tuesday for Turkey and Russia to end their dispute over the downing of a Russian fighter jet and focus instead on Islamic State, the real enemy.

Obama said he was sure too that Russia would soon change tack in Syria, backing a political solution to the bloody conflict after years supporting long time ally, President Bashar al-Assad who Washington insists must step down.

Separately, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he was "prepared to expand" the role of special operations troops fighting IS in Syria and Iraq where the jihadist group has seized huge swathes of territory and lucrative oil fields it uses to fund its deadly activities.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile urged key ally Turkey and Russia to find a way to avoid a repeat of an incident which threatens to scupper efforts to forge a common front against IS after the group's attacks in Paris left 130 dead.

Obama was frank about what both sides should do.

"I want to be very clear: Turkey is a NATO ally. The US supports Turkish rights to defend itself and its airspace and its territory," Obama said after meeting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Paris.

"We all have a common enemy and that is ISIL and I want to make sure we focus on that threat," Obama said, using an alternative name for IS.

Erdogan, who has demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin provide evidence to back up charges Ankara trades in oil with IS, said he too was keen to move on.

"We are always willing to resort to the diplomatic language (...) we want to avoid the tensions," he said.

- Calm tensions, avoid repeat -

For his part, Stoltenberg said: "The focus now should be on how we can de-escalate and calm tensions (and find) mechanisms so that we can avoid the type of incident we saw last week."

He was speaking at the start of a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting which will review measures adopted by the alliance after the Ukraine crisis to upgrade readiness levels and reassure nervous eastern Europe members who were once ruled from Moscow that the alliance will stand by them.

Stoltenberg says the changes apply globally in what he described as a "dark" security environment, with concerns over Syria looming large.

He said US-led NATO has supported Turkey in the past and would announce fresh measures shortly but stressed they were not linked to the downing of the Russian jet along the Syrian border.

Obama, who took a conciliatory tone in a meeting Monday with Putin, said Tuesday he believed Moscow would soon realise the cost of its military intervention in support of Assad outweighed the benefits.

"Ultimately Russia's going to recognise the threat that (IS) poses to (the) country, to its people, is the most significant and that they need to align themselves with us who are fighting ISIL," he said, using another name for the group.

Secretary Carter meanwhile announced Washington would deploy a special expeditionary force to Iraq and other units to Syria to combat IS.

"These special operators will over time be able to conduct raids, free hostages, gather intelligence, and capture ISIL leaders," he said.

"The international community -- including our allies and partners -- has to step up before another attack like Paris," he added.

- Russia, Turkey trade barbs -

Puttin said he believed the decision to shoot down the Russian figher was meant to cover up Turkish involvement in the IS oil trade, sparking a furious response from Erdogan.

He had earlier snubbed a request by Erdogan to meet on the sidelines of the UN climate conference in Paris.

"A claim is made through evidence. If there's such evidence, then put it on the table and we will look," Erdogan said.

If the allegations were proved true, then he would resign, the president said.

Ankara has also ruled out making an apology demanded by Moscow.

Russia announced a series of retaliatory sanctions aimed at Turkey's key tourism and agricultural sectors.

Russia has boosted its military presence in Syria, deploying top-range S400 missiles and new naval forces in support of Assad.

© 2015 AFP

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