Obama: NATO agrees on action against Islamic State

LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press

Newport, Wales — America’s top diplomatic and defense leaders on Friday pressed a core coalition of 10 nations to summon the will to go after the Islamic State group in Iraq by using military force and squeezing the militants’ financial resources. They insisted the Western nations build a plan by the time the U.N. General Assembly meets this month.

In a private meeting with the foreign and defense ministers from the countries willing to join the effort, Secretary of State John Kerry said leaders need a clear strategy and a solid idea about what each country will contribute to the fight. And, while noting that many won’t be willing to engage in military strikes, he said they can instead provide intelligence, equipment, ammunition or weapons.

“We have the technology, we have the know-how,” Kerry said. “What we need is obviously the willpower to make sure that we are steady and stay at this.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, sitting alongside Kerry, said the group forms a loose coalition that will be needed to face the insurgent challenge. He said the group can then be expanded. Along with the United States, the coalition comprises the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark.

Later, French President Francois Hollande said his country was ready to join a coalition to take action against the Islamic State group if Iraqi authorities request it and the United Nations approves. He said France was discussing with allies what type of action might be taken.

The Friday morning meeting was a late addition to the NATO summit here and is part of a broader U.S. strategy to build a team of nations to fight the Islamic State militants who have taken control of the eastern third of Syria and large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

The foreign and defense ministers talked about how to tackle the Islamic State militant growth in Iraq, but Kerry said there are obviously “implications about Syria in this” and suggested they could discuss that later in the day.

“We very much hope that people will be as declarative as some of our friends around the table have been in order to be clear about what they’re willing to commit, because we must be able to have a plan together by the time we come to (the United Nations General Assembly),” said Kerry. “We need to have this coalesce.”

President Barack Obama says NATO members unanimously agree on the need for immediate action against Islamic State militants because they pose a threat to members of the alliance.

Obama says the members agree that the Islamic State is a “savage organization” that must ultimately be destroyed.

Obama spoke Friday just before departing from a two-day NATO summit in Wales. The president has been pressing his counterparts there to join a coalition of nations that could go after the Islamic State group using military power, diplomatic pressure and economic penalties.

He says the international coalition needs to go beyond Western countries and include Sunni majority states to reject the kind of nihilism that the Islamic State projects.

A senior Obama administration official said Thursday that the U.S. wanted to establish a credible ground force in Syria by training more moderate rebels before taking military action there. A $500 million request is pending in Congress.

The U.S. does not see the situation as solely an Iraq problem or solely a Syria problem, said the official, speaking under ground rules that she not be named. The official said air power has only a limited long-term effect.

One key prong of a Western coalition approach would be for the nations’ law enforcement and intelligence agencies to work together to go after the Islamic State group’s financing — both in banks and more informal funding networks. But as long as the Islamic State has access to millions of dollars a month in oil revenue, it will remain well-funded, U.S. intelligence officials say.

In a joint statement after the meeting in Wales, Kerry and Hagel said the diplomatic and military officials agreed to begin talking with a new Iraqi government about the potential for training and equipping the Iraqi security forces. They added that the group agreed to work to stem the Islamic State’s source of funding from illicit oil sales and hold accountable those who violate the trade prohibitions.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO has agreed to help coordinate assistance to Iraq that is coming from various nations. And he said that, if Iraq asks, NATO would consider putting together a mission to train and increase the capabilities of the Iraqi forces. NATO did training during the Iraq war.

NATO also agreed to increase cooperation among nations on sharing information about foreign fighters. A number of nations, including the U.S., have noted that radicalized citizens have been traveling to Syria and Iraq to fight, raising alarms that they could return to their home countries and launch attacks.

Denmark’s Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said after the meeting that so far Denmark hasn’t been asked to provide anything specific, but he added, “I cannot deny it will happen.”

“It is not only about a military effort, it is also about stopping the financial contributions to ISIS, to coordinate intelligence, it is about stopping foreign fighters, young people from our own societies,” Lidegaard said in a live interview on Danish television. “It is decisive that we get more countries along.”

The Friday meeting follows on the heels of a broad public plea by President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron for NATO leaders to form a coalition to combat the extremists through military power, diplomatic pressure and economic penalties.

Kerry and Hagel laid out the goals in a joint editorial published as the two-day NATO meeting began.