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Putin ready to work with France against ‘mutual enemy’ IS group

Yuri Kadobnov, AFP | French President François Hollande and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, address a news conference after talks at the Kremlin on November 26, 2015.

French President Francois Hollande said Thursday after talks in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin that Russia and France would intensify the exchange of intelligence information and coordinate their strikes against the Islamic State group.

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Addressing reporters at the Kremlin, Hollande restated France’s view that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a key ally of Russia, had no place in the country's future.

But in a sign of convergence between Paris and Moscow, Hollande said the two leaders had agreed to strike “only terrorists” in Syria, namely the Islamic State (IS) group and similar jihadist organisations.

"What we agreed, and this is important, is to strike only terrorists and Daesh and to not strike forces that are fighting terrorism. We will exchange information about whom to hit and whom not to hit," Hollande said, using a derogatory Arabic term to refer to the IS group.

The French president said the two leaders had also agreed to coordinate strikes on oil transportation targets on territory held by the jihadist group.

Putin, whose forces have been accused of targeting mainly moderate Syrian groups opposed to Assad, added that Russia was willing to cooperate with opposition groups fighting IS extremists.

He said Moscow was ready to unite with Paris against a "mutual enemy", noting that both countries had recently suffered deadly terrorist attacks.

But he confirmed his support for Assad, whom he described as a “natural ally” of any coalition fighting the jihadists.

Diplomatic marathon

Hollande has been on a whirlwind diplomatic tour seeking to build a coalition to crush the IS group in the wake of the November 13 attacks in Paris, in which 130 people were killed.

The French president has seen few concrete pledges so far, and his campaign has been further complicated by a furious diplomatic spat between Russia and Turkey.

British Prime Minister David Cameron met with Hollande earlier this week and said he "firmly supported" France's actions, but US President Barack Obama has given the idea of greater cooperation with Russia against the IS jihadists a much cooler reception.

Obama, whom Hollande met in Washington on Tuesday, said Russia was welcome to join the alliance against IS jihadists, but must redirect its air strikes away from anti-Syrian regime rebels towards the jihadists.

At the Kremlin on Thursday, Putin said Russia was ready to cooperate with the US-led coalition against the IS group, though cautioning that a unified coalition was necessary.

At the same time, he lashed out at the US over the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey, saying the US should have prevented its coalition ally Turkey from making such a move.

Hollande, a NATO member along with Turkey, said the jet’s downing was “obviously regrettable”, adding that the incident was further proof of the need to "strengthen the coordination between the countries" fighting the IS group.

 

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