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WSJ: Global Anti-ISIS Alliance Begins to Emerge

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wsj.com

Global Anti-ISIS Alliance Begins to Emerge

Nathan Hodge in Moscow, William Horobin in Paris and Philip Shishkin in Washington

Updated Nov. 17, 2015 11:27 p.m. ET

France, Russia and the U.S. moved beyond talk of cooperation and into the far more difficult realm of action, as the “grand and single coalition” French President François Hollande called for to combat Islamic State began coming into view.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that if Russia shifts its military strategy in Syria to focus on Islamic State, the U.S. would welcome cooperation with Moscow on an intensified military campaign. He said he conveyed that message to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a meeting in Turkey earlier this week.

“That is something that we very much want to see,” Mr. Obama said while in the Philippines for a summit of Asian nations.

Mr. Hollande telephoned his Russian counterpart Tuesday to discuss possible joint plans, and made arrangements to visit Washington and Moscow next week to pursue the formation of a major new alliance. France launched a third round of airstrikes Tuesday night against Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, while waves of Russian warplanes and cruise missiles struck the same area in the daytime.

The effort could yet dissolve, as major problems—especially the legacy of Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and discord over Syria’s future—haven’t gone away. The involvement of Arab allies with overlapping and uneven agendas complicates regional diplomacy.

But among the signs of potential progress, Russia gave Washington advance notice of its airstrikes Tuesday—the first time it had done so since the Russian bombing campaign started Sept. 30. U.S. officials said Russia conducted between 12 and 20 strikes Tuesday—some cruise missiles from Russian ships and some strikes by TU-22 backfire bombers.

Moscow’s determination on Tuesday that a bomb had destroyed a Russian jetliner last month over Egypt accentuated the appearance of common cause.

Mr. Putin now is looking less like a global pariah and more like the indispensable man for a combined global effort to tackle Islamic State.

A short time ago, cooperation was nearly unthinkable. Following Russia’s move last year to annex the Crimean peninsula, the U.S. and its European allies imposed economic sanctions on Moscow. Ever since, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been in the midst of refocusing its energies on countering the potential military threat from Russia.

Starting in September, Mr. Putin has played an aggressive hand to shift the geopolitical balance.

Days after he called for a unified front against Islamic State at the United Nations, the Russian military launched its own airstrikes in Syria, angering Washington. The Obama administration said Russia’s military efforts appeared primarily aimed at propping up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and focused little on hitting Islamic State. The U.S., France and other Arab and Western allies want Mr. Assad out.

The Paris attacks on Friday, with their Sept. 11-style resonance for France, created an opening for Mr. Putin.

Aleksei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said they were forcing Moscow and the West closer together.

“We have had disagreements in the past, in the 1930s, but that didn’t stop us from creating a coalition against Hitler, and it was effective,” Mr. Pushkov said Tuesday in Brussels, according to the Russian news agency Interfax. “Today, we also need to form a new coalition against this qualitatively new challenge.”

In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron said he would lay out the case to his Parliament in the coming days for joining international efforts against Islamic State in Syria. In Germany, a threatened terrorist attack forced the cancellation of a soccer game Tuesday, and likely will add to a national discussion over that country’s role in the counterterrorism campaign.

“What’s happening is precisely what we’ve wanted to happen: more contributions from allies like France to the counter-ISIL campaign, and more of a focus on ISIL from Russia in its air campaign,” a senior Obama administration official said, using an acronym for Islamic State. “As to going forward, we’ll want to make sure this is coupled with continued cooperation from Russia on the Vienna process.”

Leaders of more than a dozen countries have been meeting in Vienna to plot a possible political resolution to the crisis in Syria. Mr. Obama said Russia has been a “constructive partner” in diplomatic talks in Vienna about Syria, although the two leaders still disagree on the future of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.

But some Western military and political leaders remain uneasy about Mr. Putin. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday sounded notes of caution.

“Russia can play a constructive role in Syria, but what we have seen so far is most of their military actions have been targeted not in ISIL controlled areas,” he said. “The effort should be about fighting ISIL, not supporting the regime, which is what Russia has done so far.”

Current and former Obama administration officials expressed a similar sentiment, cautioning that obstacles to meaningful cooperation remain, chief among them the issue of Mr. Assad’s future.

“As long as Putin’s theory of the conflict is inverse of what the rest of the world thinks, it’s impossible for me to see that there would be any military cooperation with the Russians,” Derek Chollet, former assistant secretary of defense, said Monday. “What could happen diplomatically is Russia could deliver Assad, get him to agree to a process that would lead to his departure.”

A Russian diplomat familiar with the Middle East said the Paris attacks opened the door toward a U.S.-Russian rapprochement, but also cautioned that Moscow’s cooperation proposals are “suspended in the air” without a formal U.S. response.

Washington’s Mideast allies have split over whether to cooperate with both the U.S. and Russia.

Countries most supportive of Syria’s moderate, anti-Assad rebels—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—still want an exit date set for Mr. Assad, even if he’s allowed to stay in power during a transition, according to U.S. and Mideast diplomats.

Other American allies, including Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, have become more accepting of the role Russia is playing.

“For a political solution in Syria, Moscow is key,” Jordan’s King Abdullah II said in an interview with Euronews last week. “They are the ones that can give the guarantees to the regime that they have a stake in the future.”

Iran is another potential wild card, for Western countries and their Arab allies, but also possibly for Russia.

Iranian diplomats have said in recent days that they have blocked efforts by the U.S. and others to prevent Mr. Assad from running for re-election.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, told state media on Sunday that during talks in Vienna, Iran “stressed unequivocally that only Assad himself can decide on his participation or nonparticipation in the elections.”

The position seems to signal an emerging fissure in the Iranian-Russian alliance on Syria, U.S. and European officials said. Moscow has shown more willingness to accept a settlement that blocks Mr. Assad from running for re-election, they said.

“There are signs that they don’t share long-term interests,” said a senior European diplomat who attended the Vienna talks.

—Carol E. Lee in Antalya, Turkey, and Jay Solomon in Washington contributed to this article.

Write to Nathan Hodge at nathan.hodge, William Horobin at William.Horobin and Philip Shishkin at philip.shishkin

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Written by Mika

18. novembra 2015. u 09:28

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