Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 7 News List

PARIS ATTACKS: Islamic State casts long shadow over G20 summit

Reuters, BELEK, Turkey

Security agents yesterday watch the tarmac as US President Barack Obama arrives aboard Air Force One at Antalya International Airport in Turkey for the G20 summit.

Photo: Reuters

US President Barack Obama and other world leaders yesterday arrived in Turkey for a summit that has taken on new urgency after attacks in Paris pushed the fight against Islamic State (IS) militants to the top of the agenda.

Obama, who called the attacks “an outrageous attempt to terrorize civilians” on the eve of his departure, faces the question of how the West should respond now Islamic State poses a clear threat far beyond its strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

Washington already expects France to retaliate by taking on a larger role in the US-led coalition’s bombing campaign against Islamic State, but Obama is also seeking to coax other European and Middle Eastern countries into more tangible steps to show their military commitment, a.. official said before the president embarked on his nine-day foreign trip.

Obama was scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting with Saudi Arabian King Salman at the summit last night, a White House official said. Their last meeting took place in early September in Washington.

The two-day summit of the G20 major economies brings Obama and fellow world leaders just 500km from Syria, where a four-and-a-half-year conflict has transformed Islamic State into a global security threat and spawned Europe’s largest migration flows since World War II.

The coordinated attacks by gunmen and suicide bombers in Paris on Friday puts Obama and other leaders of the G20 under increased pressure to find common cause.

However, it remains to be seen whether the US itself has an appetite for much deeper involvement after already stepping up air strikes and committing small numbers of special operations troops to northern Syria to advise opposition forces in the fight against Islamic State.

The Paris carnage also poses a major challenge for Europe, with populist leaders rushing to demand an end to an influx of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa.

Russia, the US and powers from Europe and the Middle East on Saturday outlined a plan after meeting in Vienna for a political process in Syria leading to elections within two years, but differences remained on key issues such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fate.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov yesterday told reporters in Turkey that the Vienna talks and signals from the world’s capitals after the Paris attacks showed greater understanding on the joint fight against terrorism.

However, there had not been a “breakthrough” in positions, he said.

Obama was due to hold bilateral talks with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and later, at a working dinner with fellow leaders, to have in-depth discussions on Syria, ranging from counter-terrorism to the refugee crisis.

Turkey has seen its worst nightmare unfold in Syria. Ankara faces not only the threat from IS, but also the prospect of al-Assad, shielded by Russia and Iran, holding on to power, while Kurdish rebels backed by the US make territorial gains.

Obama is likely try to ease differences with Erdogan over the fight against IS, especially the role of Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

Turkey, which opened its air bases in July to the US-led coalition against the IS group, sees advances by Syrian Kurds along an area abutting Turkey as a threat to its security, fearing they could stoke separatism among its own Kurds.

Although the G20 usually focuses on economic issues, the summit comes not only after the Paris attacks, but also two weeks after a suspected bomb attack on a Russian airliner killed 224 people in the Sinai Peninsula and just over a month after two suspected IS suicide bombers blew themselves up in Ankara, killing more than 100.

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