President Obama expressed fresh doubts Tuesday about Russia's willingness to turn away from a military campaign in Syria focused on "propping up" President Bashar Assad and instead joining efforts to battle Islamic State, saying that he doesn't expect a "180 turn" in the near future.
"I don't think we should be under any illusions that somehow Russia starts hitting only ISIL targets," Obama said, using his administration's preferred term for Islamic State. "That's not happening now. It was never happening. It's not going to be happening in the next several weeks."
Speaking at a news conference closing his two-day visit to Paris for a global climate summit and a day after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Obama seemed increasingly resigned to a prolonged battle against Islamic State. The terrorist group is "going to be a serious threat for time to come," he said, given its efficient social media tactics, the resources it has from the oil trade and other means, and its network of experienced fighters.
But he insisted, as he did last week, that he was "confident we are on the winning side of this." A dinner late Monday with French President Francois Hollande was meant to be an opportunity for the two leaders to discuss new efforts to strengthen the international coalition fighting the extremists.
But the stalemate over Syria remains a sticking point. The president said a diplomatic effort to set the path for ending the nation's bloody civil war is "moving forward steadily," though "not conclusively," as the U.S. continues to insist Assad step down before any political transition.
"We're going to just keep on working at this," Obama said. "My hope and expectation is that that political track will move at the same time as we continue to apply greater and greater pressure on ISIL."
Obama said he thinks Putin understands that Russia cannot "simply get bogged down in a inconclusive and paralyzing civil conflict," and noted that Putin has dealt now with a passenger jet downed by Islamic State militants over Egypt and a Russian military jet shot down by the Turks as it made a brief pass through its airspace.
The latter has presented Obama with additional hurdles. Earlier Tuesday, he met with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to discuss ways to "deescalate" tensions inflamed by the shoot-down.
"We all have a common enemy, and that is ISIL," he said. "I want to make sure that we focus on that threat."
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