Turkey,Russia Urged to Squash Tension 12/01 06:36
Aiming to head off a rift between major Mideast players, President Barack
Obama urged Turkey and Russia on Tuesday to set aside tensions over the downing
of a Russian warplane and focus on the common priority of defeating the Islamic
PARIS (AP) -- Aiming to head off a rift between major Mideast players,
President Barack Obama urged Turkey and Russia on Tuesday to set aside tensions
over the downing of a Russian warplane and focus on the common priority of
defeating the Islamic State group.
Obama, in a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vouched for
the NATO ally's right to self-defense, and he pledged a solid U.S. commitment
"to Turkey's security and its sovereignty." Yet he emphasized the need for
Turkey and Russia to "de-escalate" their conflict and not get distracted from
the campaign against IS and efforts to resolve Syria's long-running civil war.
"We all have a common enemy. That is ISIL," Obama said, using one of several
acronyms for the extremist group. "I want to make sure that we focus on that
Tensions between Turkey and Russia have erupted into diplomatic crisis since
Turkey shot down a Russian jet it accused of violating its airspace less than
two weeks ago. Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed Turkey shot the
plane down to protect oil he says Turkey is illegally importing from IS --- a
charge Turkey vehemently denies. Turkey has insisted it won't apologize for the
shoot-down, which also led Russia to slap a package of new sanctions against
The spat between two countries the U.S. sees as critical to resolving the
Syria crisis has threatened to undermine Obama's efforts to expand the U.S.-led
coalition. After IS claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and shooting
down a Russian passenger jet in Egypt, Obama had sought to turn the outrage
across Europe into newfound resolve for stepping up the fight against IS.
To that end, Obama has been working to persuade Russia to focus its
airstrikes in Syria against IS, instead of U.S.-backed rebels fighting Syrian
President Bashar Assad. Further muddying the diplomatic picture, Moscow has
steadfastly supported Assad while the U.S. and Turkey insist he must leave
power as part of a political solution to Syria's civil war.
Sitting down with Erdogan in Paris on the sidelines of global climate talks,
Obama said the U.S. was very interested in accelerating its military
relationship with Turkey. He also praised Turkey for generously accepting
refugees fleeing violence in Syria, and credited Turkey with strengthening
security along its border.
Turkey, too, hopes to avoid tensions with Russia, Erdogan told reporters as
he and Obama finished their roughly hour-long meeting. Waxing optimistic about
a new diplomatic effort in Vienna aimed at a ceasefire in Syria's civil war,
Erdogan said he hoped it would result in "sigh of relief for the entire
region." The U.S., Russia and Turkey are all taking part in those talks.
"As the coalition forces, we are determined to keep up the fight against
ISIS, and ISIS forces on the ground," Erdogan said through a translator.
Yet in a fresh reminder of strains with Moscow, Erdogan repeated his
denouncement of Russian airstrikes in Syria's Turkmen region. He said more than
500 civilians had been killed recently in an area where he said Islamic State
fighters are not operating.
"They are Turkish descendants," Erdogan said. "That area is continuously
Obama's meeting with Erdogan came as he wrapped up two days of negotiations
with world leaders aimed at securing a major global climate pact. Before
returning to Washington later Tuesday, Obama was meeting with the leaders of
Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, St. Lucia, Barbados and Papua New Guinea. The
U.S. has said small island nations are particularly vulnerable to the effects
of climate change.