The White House(WASHINGTON) — President Obama told French President Francois Hollande Tuesday that the United States stands united in “total solidarity” with France.
But beyond some changes on the margins of the United States’ participation in the fight against ISIS extremists, the president did not announce any major shifts in strategy in light of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris.
Rather, he said the United States would “step up” its coordination with France by providing additional airlift and intelligence to its European partner, and he called for the European Union to implement an agreement that would require airlines to share passenger information.
His statements, at the beginning of a news conference with Hollande in the East Room of the White House, happened after the two leaders met privately in the Oval Office for the first time since the Nov. 13 terrorist attack in Paris that left 130 dead, where they were expected to discuss cooperation in the war against ISIS.
But before the meeting even began, the White House had signaled that its outcome might be more symbolic than substantive.
“I don’t want to get ahead of the meeting, but I also wouldn’t downplay the significance of additional expressions of solidarity and support,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.
Some observers had suggested that the United States and France could do more to streamline the intelligence-sharing that goes on between their two countries. But Earnest indicated that the White House believes that burden is on Europe.
“We certainly believe that there is more that France and their European partners can do in terms of sharing information among themselves and with the United States,” he said.
And while Hollande has previously expressed hope that the Nov. 13 Paris attack would prompt the United States and Russia to “join forces” with other nations in the fight against ISIS, Obama has already indicated he doesn’t plan on dramatically shifting course.
“The strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work,” Obama told reporters in Turkey Nov. 16, three days after Paris sustained the terrorist attack that killed 130 people.
The United States has concerns about coordinating counterattacks against ISIS with Russia, as President Vladimir Putin has been focused on striking enemies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, not ISIS itself.
The discussions were overshadowed by news Tuesday that Turkey shot down a Russian warplane that it claimed was violating its airspace. Turkey had also voiced voiced concerns that Moscow had been targeting ethnic minorities who are fighting alongside Syrian rebel groups against Assad.
Obama noted his skepticism about Russia’s commitment to the anti-ISIS fight during a trip to East Asia last week.
“The question at this point is whether [Russia] can make the strategic adjustment that allows them to be effective partners with us,” Obama said during a news conference in Malaysia Sunday. “And we don’t know that yet.”
Another aspect of the anti-ISIS fight that Obama will likely underscore with Hollande is the influx of Syrian refugees who are seeking resettlement in both leaders’ nations.
U.S. politicians have been urging the United States to pause its Syrian refugee program until the administration can confirm that it’s airtight against possible terrorist infiltration. Obama wants to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country over the next year.
Meanwhile, France has said it will accept 30,000 more refugees over two years.
Obama slammed the notion of suspending the program, calling it “un-American.”
“There’s a difference between smart applications of law enforcement and military and intelligence, and succumbing to the kind of fear that leads us to abandon our values, to abandon how we live, to abandon — or change how we treat each other,” he said in Malaysia.
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