Thursday 19 September 2019

France and Russia to co-operate in fight against IS

Russian president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande during their meeting in Moscow (AP)
Russian president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with his French counterpart Francois Hollande during their meeting in Moscow (AP)
French president Francois Hollande is due to meet Vladimir Putin for terrorism talks

French president Francois Hollande has said Russia and France will co-ordinate their military strikes against Islamic State (IS).

Speaking after talks in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, Mr Hollande emphasised his own view that Syrian president Bashar Assad has no place in the country's future.

He called for the formation of a transitional government that would draft a new constitution and hold elections.

Mr Putin confirmed that Moscow and France had agreed to co-ordinate the work of their militaries and enhance their exchange of information.

The Russian premier said Mr Assad's fate should be decided by the people in his country.

Mr Putin called the Syrian army a "natural ally" of any international coalition fighting IS, and added that he and Mr Hollande had agreed to avoid striking any groups fighting the Islamic extremists.

Mr Putin harshly criticised Washington for failing to prevent the downing of a Russian warplane by Nato member Turkey near the Syrian border.

Mr Hollande said the incident was a "serious incident, obviously regrettable", and that it underlined the need for closer coordination between nations which are fighting IS.

The French leader said: "It is crucial in that period to avoid any risk, any incident, and prevent any escalation.

"The only goal we must have is fighting Daesh and neutralise the terrorists, there is no other goal," he said, referring to the IS by its Arab acronym.

IS has claimed responsibility for the November 13 attacks in Paris, as well as deadly bombings in Beirut and the downing of a Russian plane on October 31 that killed all 224 people on board over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Mr Hollande said he and Mr Putin agreed to "increase information and intelligence exchange, intensify air strikes against Daesh, which will be subject to a coordination to increase their efficiency" and make sure that "the forces combating Daesh and other terrorist groups must not be targeted by our actions".

Mr Putin specified that Russia is ready to both cooperate bilaterally with France and with the US-led coalition as a whole on the choice of targets, so that to "determine the territories which could be struck, as well as those that must be spared, exchange information on various issues and coordinate action on the battlefield".

Speaking about the Syrian conflict, both leaders emphasised the need for political process but held their ground on the fate of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Mr Hollande underlined that "from France's view, it's clear that Assad does not have his place in Syria's future," while Mr Putin said that the Syrian leader's future "should be at the hands of the Syrian people".

Mr Putin said that Russia is mourning for Paris victims and those who died in the downing of the Russian passenger plane over Egypt.

He praised Mr Hollande's efforts to build an anti-terror coalition and said that Moscow was open for stronger co-operation.

Mr Hollande's visit comes two days after he met with president Barack Obama in Washington, where both leaders vowed to escalate air strikes against IS and bolster intelligence sharing.

Following his meeting with the French president, Mr Obama said Russian cooperation in the fight against IS would be "enormously helpful".

Both Mr Obama and Mr Hollande, however, insisted that a political transition in Syria must lead to Assad's departure. Russia, on the other hand, has been Mr Assad's staunchest ally.

Last week, Mr Hollande called for the US and Russia to set aside their policy divisions over Syria and "fight this terrorist army in a broad, single coalition". But his office acknowledges that "co-ordination" sounds like a far more realistic goal.

With two suspects of the Paris attacks at large, tensions were still high in Belgium, especially in the capital, Brussels. But authorities have lowered the threat level in Brussels to the second-highest level.

Since Saturday morning, Brussels - home to the European Union and Nato's headquarters - had been wary of a threat that was considered "serious and imminent".

The lowering of the threat level came as a surprise, since the government had said that it would likely keep the highest threat level in the capital through the weekend.

Authorities launched a raid in southern Belgium on Thursday afternoon linked to the Paris attacks, but did not detain any suspects.

In Brussels, a civil protection squad decontaminated several people as a precaution at the main mosque after a suspicious parcel arrived.

The person who opened the package discovered white powder and immediately contacted authorities. A specialised crew from the fire department was sent, witnesses at the scene said.

PA Media

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