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Hollande, on Moscow visit, calls for broad anti-ISIS coalition

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, listens to France's President Francois Hollande during their meeting in Moscow on Thursday. [Associated Press]
Published Nov. 27, 2015

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday said he was ready to coordinate strikes against the Islamic State with the United States and its allies.

After talks with French President François Hollande at the Kremlin, Putin said, "We are ready to cooperate with the coalition which is led by the United States."

It was the most forthright commitment to a joint effort between Russia and the West since Moscow's seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

But it was far from the declaration of a new grand coalition in Syria, potentially under United Nations auspices rather than American leadership, that Putin has proposed. The deep disagreement between Russia and the West over the future of the embattled Syrian president, Bashar Assad, has not been put aside.

Hollande said France was ready to fight alongside Russia but added, "Of course, Assad cannot play any role in the future of this country."

Since Russia intervened in Syria two months ago, Moscow and Washington have agreed on measures to "de-conflict" their aerial operations there. But as each country pounds its targets in Syria, they have not worked in tandem in any way.

Hollande arrived in Moscow after meeting with President Barack Obama earlier this week. The terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 have led France to step up its operations in Syria and to seek some sort of workable agreement among the foreign powers involved there. The idea has not been warmly embraced by the United States, which has accused Russia of targeting Assad's foes among the American-backed rebels, rather than the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Hollande said that he and Putin had agreed "to only carry out strikes against terrorists, only against ISIS, and only against jihadist groups."

"It is important not to strike those groups who are also fighting against terrorists," he said.

Putin has long argued that the Western powers, Russia and China all face a common Islamist threat, and he has made it clear that he resents what he sees as relative Western indifference to attacks on Russia. He also has suggested that the United States has been negligent in taking the Islamist threat seriously enough.

The Paris attacks occurred shortly after a bomb brought down a Russian airliner on its way from Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh resort to St. Petersburg, killing all 224 aboard. On Thursday, Putin and Hollande commiserated over the those attacks. The occasion gave Putin an opportunity to reiterate his argument about the common threat and about the need for the major powers to act in concert.

Putin has emphasized the fight against global terrorism as a means to repair, or at least re-establish, a meaningful partnership with the West.

"Our positions are the same," Putin told Hollande before they began their private talks. "That forces us to join our forces in fighting terrorists. We are prepared to work with you, Mr. President."

Hollande said, "I am in Moscow with you to figure out how we can act together in order to coordinate our actions to hit this terrorist group and look for political solutions for Syria."

Putin also said that he and Hollande had agreed on "how we will cooperate in the near future, on a bilateral basis and with, as a whole, the coalition led by the United States."

That would include where to launch strikes, Putin said.

In London, British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday argued the case for extending Britain's airstrikes targeting ISIS to Syria, telling Parliament that the group posed a "fundamental threat" to the security of Britain and that the United Kingdom should not "wait until an attack takes place here." He added that British police and security services have foiled seven plots over the past year either linked to ISIS or inspired by its propaganda.

Cameron told Parliament that if Britain won't act "when our friend and ally France has been struck in this way, then our allies in the world can be forgiven for asking: If not now, when?"

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

Since Saturday morning, Brussels — home to the European Union and NATO 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 didn't 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 specialized crew from the fire department was sent, witnesses at the scene said.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet decided in the wake of the Paris attacks to send reconnaissance aircraft, tanker planes and a warship to help in the fight against ISIS. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters that the government had also agreed to provide satellite surveillance.

During Merkel's visit in Paris on Wednesday, Hollande had said it would "be a very good signal in the fight against terrorism" if Germany could do more against IS in Syria and Iraq.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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