U.S. President Barack Obama urged Turkey yesterday to reduce tensions with Moscow after the downing of a Russian warplane and to seal its border with Syria to choke off the supply of money and fighters to Islamic State militants.
He also raised the spectre of Afghanistan in warning Russia against getting bogged down in its military campaign to prop up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But hopes of the de-escalation called for by Obama suffered a setback when Russia officially announced a list of sanctions to be imposed on Turkey and sources said Moscow may also freeze work on a major gas pipeline project.
Obama met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Paris, where they have been attending a climate summit, a week after Turkish jets shot down a Russian warplane along the Syrian border.
Obama stressed that U.S. support for its NATO ally’s security remained steadfast.
“The United States supports Turkey’s right to defend itself and its airspace and its territory,” Obama said. “We discussed how Turkey and Russia can work together to de-escalate tensions and find a diplomatic path to resolve this issue.”
Obama told Erdogan that the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIL, must be pursued by all sides, echoing a message he delivered to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday. “We all have a common enemy, and that is ISIL, and I want to make sure that we focus on that threat,” Obama said.
Tensions between Russia and Turkey have complicated U.S. efforts to prod Moscow into steering its military might towards Islamic State rather than Western-backed Syrian opposition groups. Putin supports Assad, while Obama and Erdogan want him to go.
Obama said he did not expect a quick reversal of Putin’s strategy in Syria, but Moscow may eventually align itself with the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State.