France Says Russia Open to Cooperation in IS Fight in Syria as Moscow Demands Sovereignty Be Respected

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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday that Russia was sincere in wanting to cooperate in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

"There is an opening, so to speak, with the Russians. We think they are sincere and we must bring together all our forces," Fabius told France Inter radio.

Relations between France and Russia have deteriorated since last year's Ukraine crisis.

But both countries have suffered major terror attacks at the hands of IS in recent weeks -- the coordinated gun and bomb attacks last Friday in Paris, and the bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt last month.

President Francois Hollande called this week for the "bringing together of all those who can realistically fight against this terrorist army in a large and unique coalition", while his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin ordered his navy in the Mediterranean to establish contact with its French counterparts and work together "as allies".

Later on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Moscow is ready to work with the Western coalition fighting the IS if its members respect Syria's sovereignty

"We...are ready for practical cooperation with those countries which are part of the coalition and are ready to develop with them such forms of coordination that of course would respect Syria's sovereignty and the prerogatives of the Syrian leadership," Lavrov said in an interview with state-run Radio of Russia.

"I am convinced that such forms can be found if we take a pragmatic approach."

Russia first launched air strikes on Syria in September at the request of its long-standing ally President Bashar Assad, while a U.S.-led coalition of countries opposed to the Syrian strongman is conducting a separate air campaign against IS.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks on Friday, French President Francois Hollande called this week for a broad anti-IS coalition, echoing an earlier call made by Putin made at the U.N. General Assembly in September.

Hollande said he would next week discuss his proposal with U.S. President Barack Obama and Putin, who has ordered his navy in the Mediterranean to establish contact with its French counterparts and work together "as allies".

Putin has been seeking to capitalize on shifting dynamics in the West following the Paris carnage and the bombing of a Russian passenger plane over Sinai in October, arguing that Russia and the West should unite against a common enemy.

Lavrov said he first detected a change in the Western position after Putin called for a broad coalition to fight the IS jihadists in Syria.

On Wednesday Russia submitted a revised draft U.N. resolution on fighting the IS group that France said could be partially included in its own Security Council proposal.

"Right now sensible politicians are putting secondary things aside and understand that it's necessary to focus attention on the priority: to prevent efforts by ISIL to conquer positions on the huge territory on Earth," Lavrov said, using another acronym for IS.

Lavrov reiterated Russia's traditional stance that Assad protected the interests of "a significant part of Syrian society" therefore it would not be possible to reach a settlement "without his participation."

"Our Western partners realized the lack of prospects for the approach that many of them had taken," Russia's top diplomat said, referring to the insistence in the West that Assad should immediately step down.

He also praised signs of rapprochement between Russia and the West following months of tensions over Ukraine. "Our Western partners have put some formats on ice," he said, referring to venues such as the NATO-Russia Council.

"But this process is already returning to normal, the work of these mechanisms is resuming."

Also on Thursday, Russia's chief of general staff held talks with his French counterpart on combating the IS in Syria, in the first such contact since the start of the Ukraine conflict last year.

Valery Gerasimov and Pierre de Villiers "discussed on the phone the coordination of military troops' actions against IS terrorists in Syria," the Russian defense ministry said in a statement, adding that the conversation lasted an hour.

The two military chiefs "exchanged their evaluations of the current situation in the country" following calls to unite efforts against IS group by presidents Putin and Hollande.

"The terrorist acts in Paris and on board of the Russian passenger plane are links of one chain," Gerasimov was shown by state television as saying on the phone to his French colleague.

"Our grief and our wrath must help join efforts of Russia and France in the fight against international terrorism."

Putin on Tuesday ordered his navy in the eastern Mediterranean to cooperate with a group of French ships set to arrive in the area Friday and "treat them as allies," which would be the first such joint operation since World War II.

De Villiers and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the defense minister of NATO member France, had no contact with Russian counterparts since Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014, according to a French source familiar with the situation.

Moscow and Paris announced close cooperation against the Islamic State group following the bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt and the attacks in the French capital, which killed 224 and 129 people respectively.

Comments 4
Missing humble 19 November 2015, 15:23

Very true. First they must get rid of the Butcher.

Missing humble 19 November 2015, 15:32

I do not vote. But if I could I would always give you 10 votes each time!!!

Missing coolmec 19 November 2015, 15:39

Hey guys
I am no Assad supporter but I prefer him remaining in power for now. Imagine the alternative

Missing peace 19 November 2015, 17:52

it is just a big show... russia is in syria to counteract the influence iran is taking... why are they allying with western countries? LOL