Obama: Islamic State Cannot Be Defeated Without Syria Agreement
by VOA News November 19, 2015
U.S. President Barack Obama said Thursday efforts to defeat the Islamic State group will not succeed until there is a political agreement in Syria, and that he does not believe a settlement should leave President Bashar al-Assad in power.
'It is unimaginable that you can stop the civil war there when the overwhelming majority of people in Syria consider him to be a brutal, murderous dictator,' Obama said. 'He cannot regain legitimacy, and if in fact he is still in power, regardless of what outside powers do, there is still going to be large portions of the population that are fighting.'
Separately, Assad told Italian state television no political process to end the civil war can begin while 'terrorists' occupy parts of Syria. The Syrian president has in the past used the term 'terrorists' to describe both terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Western-backed rebels fighting the Syrian regime.
Obama spoke on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific conference in the Philippines.
The international community has been working for more than three years to find a way to end the fighting in Syria that has killed at least 250,000 people. The main focus of those meetings is a political transition, but Assad's role has divided key members on either side of the conflict.
The U.S. and other Western countries that have supported rebel fighters have long insisted Assad must go, while Syrian allies Russia and Iran have opposed those calls.
'Do they actually believe that they can prop up Assad and win on the ground militarily inside Syria against all the opposition, or do they actually think that it is better to save the Syrian state and work with the international community and the U.N. to find a government that truly can be legitimate?' Obama asked.
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told reporters earlier Thursday that Obama is using his overseas trip to build more support for fighting the militant group that has claimed attacks in a number of countries in recent weeks.
'[World leaders] understand that this is not something that is distant, this ISIL group has aspirations to attack the entire civilized world,' Rhodes said, using another acronym for Islamic State. 'So there is a new sense of urgency. We want to take that urgency and make it concrete.'
The U.S. has been leading a coalition of nations carrying out airstrikes against the militants in Syria and Iraq for more than a year.
Canada has been among those with warplanes bombing targets in both countries, but is now withdrawing from that mission.
Trudeau promised during a campaign that brought him to power this month that he would withdraw the six Canadian fighter jets in the region, and reiterated his commitment to that pledge on Thursday.
'We will be doing that in collaboration, coordination with all our allies to ensure that the coalition still has tremendous impact against ISIL,' he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined 20 world powers in Vienna on Saturday in agreeing on a broad timetable for talks between Syrian government representatives in the opposition and constitutional reforms that would lead to U.N.-monitored elections.
Kerry said unity within the Syrian government is a critical component for defeating Islamic State.
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