Obama pledges solidarity with France against ISIS 'scourge'

Obama pledges solidarity with France against ISIS 'scourge'
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President Obama and French President François Hollande made a show of unity at the White House on Tuesday, pledging to work together to ramp up the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in response to the Paris terror attacks. 

Calling ISIS a “scourge that threatens all of us,” Obama vowed “total solidarity” with France in the battle to defeat the group.

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“Make no mistake: we will win and groups like ISIL will lose,” Obama said while standing next to Hollande in the East Room. “Standing with allies like France, we will continue to show the world the best of American leadership.”

Hollande is in the midst of a world tour intended to encourage the U.S. and its allies to accelerate the fight against ISIS, which took responsibility for Paris attacks that left 130 dead.  

After meeting with Obama in the Oval Office, Hollande said the U.S. and France agreed on a stepped up “joint response,” which includes greater intelligence sharing, taking back ISIS-held territory in Iraq and Syria and shutting off the group’s money spigot.  

“Together with President Obama, we wanted to share our relentless determination to fight terrorism anywhere and everywhere,” said Hollande through a translator.

Obama and Hollande were determined to show they are on the same page, sharing a handshake and embrace after their opening statements. The French president noted Obama was the first world leader to call him after the deadly string of attacks in Paris. 

But Hollande went into the meeting hoping to convince Obama to work with Russia as part of a new international coalition to fight the terrorist network, a request that was complicated on Tuesday by Turkey’s downing of a Russian warplane along the Syrian border. 

U.S. and NATO officials said Tuesday the Russian jet entered Turkish airspace, according to The Associated Press. Moscow claims the plane did not cross into Turkey. 

The incident inflamed tensions between Russia and Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S. and France. The countries were already at odds over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the downing of the plane a “stab in the back” and accused Turkey of abetting terrorism. 

Russia began a military intervention in Syria this fall to shore up Assad, who is battling rebels backed by Ankara and Washington. The power vacuum caused by the five-year-long Syrian civil war has given a safe haven to ISIS. 

Obama backed Turkey’s right to defend itself and indicated that closer coordination with Russia is difficult to imagine in the wake of the downed plane. 

“I do think that this points to an ongoing problem with the Russian operations in the sense they are operating close to the Turkish border and they are going after moderate opposition,” Obama said. 

Even before the incident, Obama was deeply skeptical of working with Putin to fight ISIS, due to their differences over Assad’s future. 

Obama and Hollande both stressed that Russia must focus on striking ISIS targets, and not rebels, while committing to a political transition in Syria if it wants to take part in the coalition. 

“Until that happens, it's very difficult,” Obama said.  

In a rare move, Vice President Biden gaggled with reporters after the press conference to drive home Obama’s point. He said Putin would eventually have to come around and focus on ISIS to curb its ability to carry out terror attacks.

Biden called the Paris attacks "one of those godawful events that may bring a lot of parties to come to their senses.”

“[The] epiphany Russia has to have is you can't be killing the people that, if we succeed... are the very people" who would benefit from a transition away from Assad.

The Paris attacks, as well as the separate downing of a Russian passenger jet in Egypt, have shown ISIS’s new ability to strike targets overseas. 

Obama has come under pressure at home and abroad to step up the efforts of a U.S.-led coalition that is seeking to destroy ISIS.

The president thus far has shunned calls to dramatically escalate the campaign, insisting his current strategy of airstrikes and assisting local ground forces can work. 

But Obama’s defiance has prompted critics to accuse him of underestimating the threat posed by ISIS. Members of both political parties ripped his initial response to the Paris attacks for being too dismissive of Americans’ fears about the group’s global reach. 

“This barbaric terrorist group, ISIL or Daesh, and its murderous ideology poses a serious threat to all of us,” Obama said Tuesday. "It cannot be tolerated. It must be destroyed.” 

This story was updated at 3:30 p.m.