WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama directed his national security team Thursday to press the U.S.-led international campaign to destroy the Islamic State group “on all fronts.” He also expressed hope that a proposed cease-fire in Syria will lead to a political settlement to end the civil war and allow a more intense focus on IS.
Obama commented after a rare meeting at the State Department with some of his top national security advisers, who updated him on the parallel efforts to counter the Islamic State group and bring peace to Syria after years of civil strife.
“I have directed my team to continue accelerating this campaign on all fronts,” Obama said, flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other top advisers.
Obama said like-minded nations are stepping up and offering more assistance to defeat the Islamic State group. Since last summer militants haven’t launched a single successful operation in Syria or Iraq, where it controls large amounts of territory, he said.
On Syria, Obama said he doesn’t expect a cease-fire that’s set to take effect on Saturday to immediately end hostilities after years of bloodshed between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels who want to end his reign.
Announced just this week, the cease-fire is a “test” of whether the parties are committed to broader negotiations over a political transition, a new constitution and holding free elections, Obama said. He said Syria’s future cannot include Assad as president, which is a chief point of contention with Russia and Iran, who support the Syrian leader.
“We are certain that there will continue to be fighting,” Obama said, noting that IS, the Nusra Front and other groups aren’t part of the negotiations.
Obama put the onus on Russia and its allies – including the Assad government – to live up to their commitments under the agreement. The elusive cease-fire deal was reached only after a monthslong Russian air campaign that the U.S. says strengthened Assad’s hand and allowed his forces to retake territory, altering the balance of power in the Syrian civil war.
“The world will be watching,” Obama said.