Obama, Hollande meet under cloud of ISIS attacks

Washington: French President François Hollande arrived at the White House Tuesday prepared to press U.S. President Barack Obama for a higher-octane approach to battling ISIS, though it appeared unlikely Obama was willing to change course on his strategy.


Hollande and Obama huddled behind closed doors in the Oval Office, and neither offered any preview of their meeting to reporters at the session’s start.

But Hollande has openly called for a greater international effort to push back ISIS, whose killing spree in Paris two weeks ago was the worst terror attack on French soil in more than half a century.

He has said greater cooperation between the United States and Russia is required in battling ISIS, though persistent U.S. skepticism about Putin’s intentions in Syria have until now prevented any significant military coordination between the two countries.

Hollande’s goal of cooperation between Moscow and Washington became even more complicated Tuesday, however, when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet it claimed violated its airspace. NATO said it was holding an emergency meeting Tuesday for Turkey — a NATO member — to update other countries on the incident.

Hollande’s visit to Washington comes amid a spate of jet-set diplomacy for the French leader. He’ll meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday. He met in Paris with British Prime Minister David Cameron Monday.

Obama, who returned from a week-long foreign swing on Monday, made clear in the aftermath of the Paris attacks he wasn’t considering a change in strategy, saying instead he was planning to intensify the U.S.-led coalition’s air campaign in Iraq and Syria.

In his first press conference after the attacks, in Antalya, Turkey, Obama argued testily that alternative plans from Republicans ignored realities on the ground, saying that his own interactions with wounded troops instilled a wariness toward war.

After coming under intense criticism for his response to the attacks, Obama turned up his rhetoric on ISIS Sunday, saying during a press conference in Malaysia that his efforts to stamp out the group would succeed.

“Destroying ISIL is not only a realistic goal,” Obama said. “We’re going to get it done and we’re going to pursue it. It’s going to get done.”

But he nonetheless departed Asia insisting the strategy he’s utilized against ISIS is working — and that other options, like sending in ground troops, aren’t being considered.

The White House signaled Monday that it already believes U.S. contributions to the anti-ISIS effort are sufficient.

“The United States is certainly pulling more than our own weight when it comes to the contribution behind this coalition,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “That’s something that we’re glad to do. That is in line with the long tradition of American leadership. It certainly is a tradition that this president believes in.”

In the meeting, Obama is expected to tout new intelligence-sharing, which has helped France identify targets for airstrikes in Raqqa, ISIS’s capital in Syria.