Obama tells Russia, Turkey to focus on IS

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LE BOURGET, France – US President Barack Obama led calls Tuesday for Turkey and Russia to end their dispute over the downing of a Russian fighter jet and focus instead on Islamic State, the real enemy.

Obama said he was sure too that Russia would soon change tack in Syria, backing a political solution to the bloody conflict after years supporting long time ally, President Bashar al-Assad who Washington insists must step down.

Separately, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said he was ”prepared to expand” the role of special operations troops fighting IS in Syria and Iraq where the jihadist group has seized huge swathes of territory and lucrative oil fields it uses to fund its deadly activities.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg meanwhile urged key ally Turkey and Russia to find a way to avoid a repeat of an incident which threatens to scupper efforts to forge a common front against IS after the group’s attacks in Paris left 130 dead.

Obama was frank about what both sides should do.

”I want to be very clear: Turkey is a NATO ally. The US supports Turkish rights to defend itself and its airspace and its territory,” Obama said after meeting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Paris.

”We all have a common enemy and that is ISIL and I want to make sure we focus on that threat,” Obama said, using an alternative name for IS.

Erdogan, who has demanded that Russian President Vladimir Putin provide evidence to back up charges Ankara trades in oil with IS, said he too was keen to move on.

”We are always willing to resort to the diplomatic language (…) we want to avoid the tensions,” he said.

– Calm tensions, avoid repeat –

For his part, Stoltenberg said: ”The focus now should be on how we can de-escalate and calm tensions (and find) mechanisms so that we can avoid the type of incident we saw last week.”

He was speaking at the start of a two-day NATO foreign ministers meeting which will review measures adopted by the alliance after the Ukraine crisis to upgrade readiness levels and reassure nervous eastern Europe members who were once ruled from Moscow that the alliance will stand by them.

Stoltenberg says the changes apply globally in what he described as a ”dark” security environment, with concerns over Syria looming large.

He said US-led NATO has supported Turkey in the past and would announce fresh measures shortly but stressed they were not linked to the downing of the Russian jet along the Syrian border.

Obama, who took a conciliatory tone in a meeting Monday with Putin, said Tuesday he believed Moscow would soon realise the cost of its military intervention in support of Assad outweighed the benefits. (AFP)

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