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Homeland Security

Obama, Hollande to Meet in Wake of Paris Attacks

by Aru Pande November 23, 2015

Less than two weeks after the deadly attacks in Paris, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, to the Oval Office for talks that are expected to go beyond America showing solidarity for its oldest ally - a grieving France.

President Hollande will be at the White House Tuesday, a day after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, who pledged France new assistance for its airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria.

Cameron on Monday said he would ask the British parliament for approval to join the fight against the jihadists, while offering up a British airbase in Cyprus for French fighter jets to launch their attacks on Islamic State targets.

During Tuesday's talks at the White House, the French leader is expected to press the American president to commit more assets in the fight against Islamic State, as Hollande enlists international support for a coordinated attack on the militants.

When asked about potential deliverables from the Obama-Hollande meeting, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday he did not want to downplay the significance of expressions of solidarity and support.

"This is a time when the French people are grieving. And knowing that they can count on the most powerful country to have their back as they determine what's necessary to strengthen homeland security in their own country but also to take the fight to ISIL, I think that will be a source of significant comfort to the French people," Earnest told reporters Monday.

Countering ISIL

France is intensifying its attacks on Islamic State targets in Syria in the aftermath of the deadly Paris attacks that killed at least 130 people and wounded more than 300 others. Paris moved its sole aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, into position in the Mediterranean on Monday.

White House spokesman Earnest welcomed last week's French airstrikes against militant targets in Syria, while highlighting "significant" U.S. contributions to the French effort.

"The airstrikes that they [France) carried out were based on targets that were identified by the United States, based on intelligence that has been conducted by the United States. They were supported by mid-air refueling that was conducted by the United States, and they were backed by contingency operations, search and rescue capabilities, for example." he said.

When asked by reporters about additional U.S. contributions to the anti-IS campaign being waged by the 65-nation coalition, the press secretary noted the United States is "certainly pulling more than our own weight" something the country was "glad to do."

The Brookings Institution's Bruce Jones says Obama's meeting with Hollande underlines the importance of the West and the need to strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship in light of recent crises, whether it be the Paris attacks or the massive migration of Syrian refugees into Europe.

"The first thing President Obama should be doing with President Hollande is remembering the concept of the West and showing and meaning a willingness to put intelligence, military and economic tools in defense of those values. That I think means a significant increase in the tempo of the fight against ISIS," Jones said.

The Russian Factor

From Washington, Hollande will travel to Moscow later in the week for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia has been bombing in Syria for nearly two months, but its campaign has faced criticism from Western governments that say the strikes have focused on rebels opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and not the Islamic State group.

The White House reiterated that criticism on Monday with Earnest noting that Russia continues to undermine international efforts to reach a political settlement in Syria by "propping up" the regime of Assad.

"If Russia is prepared to change their strategy and prepared to focus their efforts on ISIL and to work with the international community to do that, then we would welcome them as members of our coalition," he said. "And certainly their efforts and resources they would bring to bear would be important. But thus far they have been unable to do that."

Obama discussed the issue with Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Turkey last week. The U.S. leader said Sunday he thinks the bombing of a Russian passenger jet last month over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is leading to an increased awareness on Putin's part that the Islamic State group is Russia's biggest threat in the Middle East.

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