The US president has rejected Russia’s military action in Syria as a dead-end strategy. President Barack Obama said Moscow risked becoming ‘stuck in a quagmire’ and strengthening so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS).
In his most extensive comments on Syria since Russia began its airstrikes on Monday, Barack Obama accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of failing to differentiate between fighters with the IS extremist group and moderate groups working in opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia carried out air strikes in Syria for a third, consecutive day on Friday.
Areas held by rival insurgent groups were targeted – rather than the IS fighters Moscow said it was aiming. “From their perspective they’re all terrorists, and that’s a recipe for disaster,” Obama said during a White House press briefing on Friday. “It’s only strengthening ISIL, and that’s not good for anybody,” Obama said, using the ISIL acronym for IS.
Russia co-operating with Iran with the aim of keeping al-Assad in power was “just going to get them stuck in a quagmire, and it won’t work,” Obama said. “And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.” “As a consequence of these brilliant moves, their economy is contracting 4 percent this year. They’re isolated in the world community,” Obama said.
He added that Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine had led to international sanctions. Obama also confirmed his strategy of supporting moderate rebels who oppose al-Assad – but did not respond to a question about possible US protection should they come under Russian attack: “We’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia,” he said.
Despite his comments, Obama did offer to work with Russia to bring peace to Syria. Shortly before Obama’s remarks, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem thanked Russia for its “effective participation in the support of the Syrian efforts in combating terrorism.” He told the UN General Assembly that Moscow’s bombing campaign was based on his government’s request.
Paris talks with Putin After meetings in Paris on Friday, French President Francois Hollande told Putin that Moscow’s airstrikes must be confined to attacking IS militants, not other rebels opposing the Syrian government. “Russia has always been involved in Syria. Since the beginning, Russia has supported the regime of Bashar Assad and furnished him weapons, even if it goes further now,” Hollande said at a press briefing. “But what I told Mr Putin is that the strikes must concern Daesh, and only Daesh,” he said, using an acronym for an Arabic variation of the IS name.
At the same press briefing, German Chancellor Angela Merkel added that the leaders “said very clearly that Daesh was the enemy that we needed to fight.” “We also said that we needed a political solution for Syria that should take into consideration the opposition’s interests and that opposition has always had our support,” Merkel added.)