Arab, Kurdish forces to get more support to fight Islamic State: Hollande

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2016 7:49 AM

By John Irish and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) - Arab and Kurdish forces will be given additional support to help retake Islamic State's bastions in Syria and Iraq, French President Francois Hollande said on Thursday, adding that 2016 had to be the year of transition in Syria.

Speaking at an annual gathering of about 200 foreign and French ambassadors, Hollande outlined his foreign policy objectives for the year, saying France would not shirk its responsibilities in fighting militancy after two deadly attacks marked his country last year.

"France is not the enemy of any people, religion or civilization" he said. "But it has one adversary: Jihadist terrorism claims to follow a god only to ridicule the name and follows only the path of destruction."

France, a permanent U.N. Security Council member and nuclear power, has thousands of troops hunting down al Qaeda-linked militants in Africa's Sahel-Sahara region and is part of the U.S.-led coalition striking Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq.

It hosted in Paris on Wednesday defense ministers whose countries are involved in the fight against Islamic State. Hollande said the meeting, which included the United States and Britain, allowed them to refine the military strategy against the group.

"Every day, thanks to our actions, this terrorist army is being weakened by losing territory, resources and fighters," he said.

"Our strategy includes the liberation of Raqqa and Mosul, where command centers are found. There was a will to provide support to Arab and Kurdish forces fighting Islamic State on the ground," he said, adding that coalition efforts would be ramped up.

France has also been a key backer of moderate opposition forces battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has been advising them on how to prepare proposed peace talks with the Syrian government on Jan. 25.

Hollande said those talks needed to ensure that there was clarity on who would govern Syria and that Assad could not be its future.

"2016 must be the year of a transition in Syria," Hollande said. The talks should include a focus on the security of the civilian population, he said.

Hollande urged Iran and Saudi Arabia to reduce tensions which flared after Riyadh executed a prominent Shi'ite cleric. Hollande said this was indispensable to help solve the crises in Syria, Yemen, but also Lebanon, where a power vacuum was becoming increasingly "dangerous."

"The return of Iran on the international scene is possible (after the nuclear accord)," Hollande said. "But it is up to Iran to prove it can."

Hollande also said Paris was ready to train Libyan security forces to help them restore authority over the country, but only once the government was fully in place. A political void in Libya has been exploited by Islamist groups.

He added that substantial progress had been made to end the conflict in Ukraine, but that the implementation of the Minsk peace accords needed to go faster.

"More efforts are required. On the Ukranian side there needs to be constitutional reform, while on the Russian side they need to put pressure to organize undisputed elections in the east," Hollande said.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by James Regan and Raissa Kasolowsky)