President says world will not accept recent attacks as representing ‘a new normal’ and calls on Putin to align himself with US-led coalition against group.
Obama Vows not to Relent Against Isis, ‘a Bunch of Killers With Good Social Media’
President says world will not accept recent attacks as representing ‘a new normal’ and calls on Putin to align himself with US-led coalition against group
Barack Obama said on Sunday that the US and its international partners “will not relent” in the fight against Islamic State and that the world will not accept the extremists’ attacks on civilians in Paris and elsewhere as the “new normal”.
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Speaking dismissively of the global prowess of Isis, Obama said: “They’re a bunch of killers with good social media.”
The president spoke at the end of a nine-day trip to Turkey and Asia that has been overshadowed by the attacks in Paris – which killed 130 people and injured hundreds more – and at a hotel in Bamako, Mali and latterly a state of high alert in Brussels.
“The most powerful tool we have is to say we are not afraid,” Obama said.
The president also pressed Russian president Vladimir Putin to align himself with the US-led coalition carrying out air strikes against Isis, noting that the militant group has been accused of bringing down a Russian passenger jet last month, killing 224 people.
“He needs to go after the people who killed Russian citizens,” Obama said of Putin, whose government supports the embattled regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
The president spoke in Malaysia shortly before departing for Washington. His trip also took him to the Philippines and Turkey, where he met Putin on the sidelines of an international summit.
While Russia has stepped up its air campaign in Syria, Obama said Moscow has focused its attention on moderate rebels fighting Assad. He called on Russia to make a “strategic adjustment” and drop its support for Assad.
“It will not work to keep him in power,” Obama said. “We can’t stop the fighting.”
Nearly five years of fighting between the Assad government and rebels has created a vacuum that allowed Isis to thrive in both Syria and Iraq.
French president François Hollande is due to meet Obama at the White House on Tuesday to discuss ways to bolster the international coalition. Hollande then heads to Russia for talks with Putin.
“Our coalition will not relent. We will not accept the idea that terrorist assaults on restaurants and theaters and hotels are the new normal, or that we are powerless to stop them,” Obama said.
The discussions about a military coalition to defeat Isis come amid parallel talks about a diplomatic solution to end Syria’s civil war. The violence has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced millions, sparking a refugee crisis in Europe.
Foreign ministers from about 20 nations agreed last week to an ambitious yet incomplete plan that sets a 1 January deadline for the start of negotiations between Assad’s government and opposition groups. Within six months, the negotiations are to establish a “credible, inclusive and nonsectarian” transitional government that would set a schedule for drafting a new constitution and holding a free and fair United Nations-supervised election within 18 months.
The Paris attacks have heightened fears of terrorism in the west and also sparked a debate in the US about accepting refugees from Syria. It is unclear whether any of the terrorists in the Paris attacks exploited the refugee system to enter Europe, though Obama has insisted that is not a legitimate security threat in the US.
“Refugees who end up in the United States are the most vetted, scrutinized, thoroughly investigated individuals that ever arrive on American shores,” Obama said.
Still, the House of Representatives passed legislation last week essentially blocking Syrian and Iraqi refugees from the US. Democrats in large numbers abandoned the president, with 47 voting for the legislation. Having secured a veto-proof majority in the House, supporters are now hoping for a repeat in the Senate, while Obama works to shift the conversation to milder visa waiver changes that would not affect Syrian refugees. US aid worker killed in Mali hotel attack had ‘best of America’s generous spirit’
Obama has focused his ire on Republicans throughout the trip, harshly criticizing lawmakers and presidential candidates for acting contrary to American values. He took a softer tone Sunday, saying he understood Americans’ concerns but urged them not to give into fear.
He said Isis “can’t beat us on the battlefield so they try to terrorize us into being afraid”, and declared: “We will destroy this terrorist organization.
“They’re a bunch of killers with good social media,” he added.
The president also paid tribute to Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old from California who was killed in the Paris attacks, and Anita Ashok Datar, a 41-year-old from Maryland who died in Friday’s attack in Mali. He said the women reminded him of his teenage daughters and his late mother.
“It is worth us remembering when we look at the statistics that there are beautiful, wonderful lives behind the terrible death tolls we see in these places,” he said.