Obama takes anti-ISIS pitch to UN

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After a weeklong effort to convince skeptical lawmakers of his strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), President Obama is now taking his sales pitch to the United Nations.

It will be a high-stakes test for the president, who is looking for the international community to endorse his approach to combating the terror group. Obama must rally reluctant international partners to meaningfully contribute to the international coalition at the heart of the anti-ISIS effort.

{mosads}The president will personally lead a Sept. 24 meeting of the U.N. Security Council focused on the threat posed by foreign terrorist fighters, and the U.S. will seek a new resolution demanding countries tighten laws to prevent the flow of fresh recruits to terror groups.

It has emerged as a major security concern as possibly tens of thousands of individuals have gone to Syria to join ISIS, including over a thousand from Europe who would be eligible to travel back to the U.S. without a visa.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently said that more than 100 U.S. citizens with passports are fighting alongside the terrorist organization in the Middle East. Thousands more are suspected of joining ISIS from other European countries.

The resolution “will increase the obligations on states to try to prevent and deter the flow of foreign fighters,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice said Friday.

“It will move the ball down the field in terms of the international legal architecture and obligations on states to try to combat this challenge,” she added.

Securing the resolution — much like last week’s congressional vote to authorize training and weapons for Syrian rebels — will serve as a tacit endorsement of the president’s strategy to confront ISIS.

White House officials expressed confidence that the resolution would pass easily through a meeting of the Security Council, which the president is expected to chair, saying Obama may even secure unanimous consent.

“I do expect that we will have a successful resolution, which means agreement among at least a majority of member states and no vetoes, but I expect actually it will be a resolution that we’re able to reach unanimity on given the import of the issue,” Rice said.

The trip to New York also gives the president an opportunity to push for additional commitments from regional partners who thus far have been reluctant to advertise their involvement in wiping out the militant group.

Lawmakers this week pressed Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry to specify what assistance other countries, especially those from the Middle East, are giving to the anti-ISIS effort.

Thus far, Saudi Arabia is the only Arab nation to explicitly announce how it intended to help, offering an existing base within its borders for the training of moderate Syrian forces.

Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby on Friday stressed that 40 nations are involved in the coalition, each “contributing what they can, given their own capacities and limitations and the desires of their populations.”

“This notion that’s out there that Arab countries aren’t signing up is just false,” he said.

Still, White House press secretary Josh Earnest downplayed speculation that the president would emerge from next week’s meetings with a slate of new commitments from allies.

“The thing that I would do is try to convey to you that this is part of an ongoing effort,” Earnest said.  “We’re going to have conversations prior to the United Nations General Assembly meeting with our Arab partners that have signaled a willingness to join this coalition.”

“We will have conversations during the United Nations General Assembly meetings with our Arab partners who are ready to contribute to this coalition,” he continued. “And we’ll continue to have meetings after the U.N. General Assembly meetings.”

The administration must use next week’s session to convince regional and international partners that the U.S. “is in this for the long-haul,” according to Michele Dunne, a senior associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

She said there have been “several times” where the White House indicated it would do more on behalf of the Syrian rebels, only to pull back.

“Regional partners are still feeling out how far this is going to go,” she said adding that follow-through on policy “has been very weak in this administration.”

The president must also convey that Washington won’t be drawn into long-standing grudges between Sunni and Shia states — tensions which could prompt several nations to opt out, according to Dunne.

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution said that the “real hard bargaining” won’t be in front of the “media spotlight in New York.”

Those “hard conversations” will be held in private in the Middle East and with leaders from rebel groups.

O’Hanlon urged the administration to focus on “specific deliverables” from each country, such as restrictions on visas or ISIS’s finances.

And he cautioned that the U.N. meeting was part of a long term process.

Don’t treat the upcoming summit as “the be all and end all,” of the anti-ISIS coalition, said O’Hanlon.

–This report was updated at 10:12 a.m.

Tags Barack Obama Chuck Hagel Iraq ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria John Kerry Josh Earnest Saudi Arabia Syria United Nations

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