PARIS: Global efforts to combat the Islamic State group gathered pace yesterday as British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged solidarity during a visit to France and Russian leader Vladimir Putin met his allies in Iran. A week of frantic international diplomacy was under way with French President Francois Hollande set to meet all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and the United States trying to rally support for a ceasefire in Syria. “I firmly support the action President Hollande has taken to strike ISIL in Syria,” Cameron said after a breakfast meeting in Paris, using another acronym for IS. “It’s my firm conviction that Britain should do so too,” he added.
Meanwhile, Putin met Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in his first trip to Tehran for eight years. Describing the meeting as “quite constructive”, a Kremlin spokesman said the two countries were against “external attempts to dictate scenarios of political settlement in Syria”. The priority for both Iran and Russia has been to protect their ally, Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad, but Moscow has shown signs it will cooperate more closely with the West since one of its passenger jets was blown up by IS over Egypt last month.
At the same time, US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Abu Dhabi hoping to forge a coalition of Syrian opposition groups for peace talks. Kerry hopes his Emirati and Saudi allies can pressure rebel factions into accepting a ceasefire with Assad within “a few weeks” – a step seen as crucial to refocusing the war on IS. “You can be confident that the diplomatic front is in high gear, with a very real plan on the table to be implemented,” Kerry said.
In Paris, Cameron and Hollande stood side by side after laying a wreath at the Bataclan concert hall, where 90 of the 130 victims were killed in the Paris attacks of Nov 13. Cameron has said he will make his case to the British parliament in the coming days for joining air strikes on Syria. While Britain has joined US-led coalition strikes on IS in Iraq, it has so far held back from hitting targets in Syria, where the jihadists also hold large swathes of territory. The British leader said he had offered France the use of a strategically located British airbase in Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri, to facilitate air strikes, and assistance with refuelling French jets.
The first fighter jets took off yesterday from France’s Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier, newly deployed to the eastern Mediterranean, for operations over IS territory in Iraq and Syria. The nature of the operations was not disclosed. Hollande, who has said France is in a “war” against the jihadists, is embarking on what could be a defining week of his three-year-old presidency. Today, he will fly to Washington for talks with President Barack Obama and a day later will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris.
Completing a series of meetings with each of France’s fellow UN Security Council members, Hollande will travel to Moscow for talks with Putin on Thursday, and hold a working dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Paris on Sunday. The Security Council on Friday authorised countries to “take all necessary measures” to fight IS in a resolution that won unanimous backing in the wake of the bloodshed in Paris. The measure drafted by France calls on all UN member states to “redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist attacks” committed by IS and other extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
Hollande said he hoped the resolution would “help mobilise nations to eliminate Daesh”, using another alternative name for IS. The US-led coalition has been pounding IS targets in Syria for over a year, but France joined the campaign only in September and has concentrated its air strikes on the jihadists’ Syrian stronghold, Raqqa. Russia has also bombed IS targets but has attracted criticism from Western powers for bombing other rebel groups opposed to Assad, a long-time ally of Moscow. Iran has been Assad’s other main backer since an uprising broke out against his rule in 2011 and escalated into a brutal civil war. – AFP