Friday 21 October 2016

US would welcome Russian air strikes on IS - Obama

Published 18/11/2015 | 04:01

Barack Obama and Philippine president Benigno Aquino in Manila (AP)
Barack Obama and Philippine president Benigno Aquino in Manila (AP)

US president Barack Obama has said he is taking a wait-and-see approach on whether Russia does more to focus on Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria, which America would "welcome".

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Intensified Russian air strikes yesterday hit the IS stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, that is also being pounded by the French after Friday's Paris attacks that killed 129 people.

The strikes came after Russia's FSB security service confirmed for the first time that a bomb caused the October 31 crash of a Russian airliner over Egypt's Sinai desert, killing 224 people. IS had already claimed responsibility.

Russia recently joined an international campaign of air strikes against IS, but Mr Obama maintained that Russia had been more focused on targeting moderate opposition groups and propping up Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Commenting while in the Philippines for the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit, Mr Obama said he expressed his view to President Vladimir Putin that Russia had been going after the wrong targets.

He said the US was "going to wait and see" whether Russia shifted its focus to IS targets "and if it does so, that's something we welcome".

President Obama also lashed out at Republicans who insist on barring Syrian refugees from entering the US, dubbing their words offensive and insisting: "It needs to stop."

"Apparently they're scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America," he said.

Mocking Republican leaders for thinking they were tough, Democrat Mr Obama said overblown rhetoric could be a potent recruitment tool for IS.

He insisted the US process for screening refugees for possible entry was rigorous and America did not make good decisions "based on hysteria" or exaggerated risk.

"We are not well served when in response to a terrorist attack we descend into fear and panic," the president said.

Mr Obama's comments, during a meeting with Philippine president Benigno Aquino, marked his harshest condemnation yet of Republicans' response to the Paris attacks.

Republicans in Congress and on the 2016 presidential trail have urged an immediate closure of America's borders to Syrian refugees, but the Obama administration has shown no sign of backing off its plans to bring in an additional 10,000 Syrians fleeing civil war.

Mr Obama took particular offence at a proposal by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush to admit only Christian Syrians. Mr Bush later clarified that he wanted to give preference to Christians, but not exclude properly-vetted Muslims.

However, Mr Obama said the idea of allowing only Christians in amounted to "political posturing" that ran contrary to American values.

In Congress, House of Representatives speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have urged at least a temporary halt in the resettlement of Syrians.

Mr Obama pointed out that he had been waiting for a year and a half for Congress to take up a new war powers resolution to address the IS threat, questioning their new-found haste to solve the purported threat of innocents fleeing war.

Defending his administration's screening programme he said it taook 18 to 24 months to clear a refugee for entry, following vetting by the US intelligence community and other agencies as well as biometrics.

Although there are indications that one of the IS attackers carried a Syrian passport and may have arrived in France alongside refugees, Germany's top security official has said the passport might have been a fake intended to stoke fears.

Still, Mr Obama acknowledged that the American public was concerned about attacks on the homeland, noting that Paris "reminds us of home".

"I understand why Americans have been particularly affected," he said.

Press Association

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