President Barack Obama has called on the leaders of Turkey and Russia to de-escalate tensions following the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey last month and to focus on the common threat posed by ISIL, and the need to make progress on a political resolution in Syria.
The President met with both leaders on the sidelines of the climate change summit in Paris. He expressed regret to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the loss of Russian life, while emphasizing the need to avoid steps that will hinder a political resolution to the Syrian conflict, a key step to defeating ISIL.
In remarks after meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdogan, President Obama reiterated his commitment to the security of Turkey and praised Turkey for its generous support for the refugees fleeing the violence in Syria.
President Obama expressed hope that in the coming months Russia will see that using its military to prop up the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not succeed in ending the Syrian conflict. Apart from the moral question of the legitimacy of a leader who has killed hundreds of thousands of his own people, President Obama said, “As a practical matter, it is impossible for Mr. Assad to bring that country together.”
“I don’t expect that you’re going to see a 180-degree turn on [the Russian] strategy over the next several weeks,” said President Obama. “They have invested for years now in keeping Assad in power…That’s going to take some time for them to change how they think about the issue.”
But President Obama said, “It is possible over the next several months that we…see a shift in calculation in the Russians and a recognition that it’s time to bring the civil war in Syria to a close.”
What can happen, said President Obama, is if the political process in Vienna aimed at ending the war continues to make progress, then we could see “at least pockets of cease-fires in and around Syria,”.
“That may mean that certain opposition groups no longer find themselves subject to either Syrian or Russian bombing. They are then in a conversation about politics. And slowly,” President Obama said,” we then are able to get everybody’s attention diverted to where it needs to be, and that is going after ISIL in a systematic way.”