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Among U.N. Members, Growing Agreement ISIS Should Go — But What About Assad?


Stopping ISIS was the focus of a U.N. meeting that president Obama chaired today. The assembled nations agreed that the group is a global threat. But NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that there were differing views on how to move forward.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Obama describes the so-called Islamic State, or ISIL, as an apocalyptic cult and says it's going to take a global movement to counter it. It may be a long fight, he says, but he thinks ultimately, the U.S. and its partners will prevail.


BARACK OBAMA: Like terrorists and tyrants throughout history, ISIL will eventually lose because it has nothing to offer but suffering and death.

KELEMEN: Obama says his coalition is growing, including three new members - Nigeria, Tunisia and Malaysia. But there are a couple of key actors that are not part of this - Russia and Iran. Russian president Vladimir Putin has suggested a different coalition, one that would work with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad against ISIL forces there. But Obama, who met with Putin yesterday, still sees Assad as part of the problem, not the solution.


OBAMA: Defeating ISIL requires, I believe, a new leader and an inclusive government that unites the Syrian people in the fight against terrorist groups.

KELEMEN: French foreign minister Laurent Fabius also took a swipe at Russia today, suggesting that neither Russia nor Assad are actually doing much in the fight against the Islamic State militants. He spoke through an interpreter.


LAURENT FABIUS: (Through interpreter) We are doing that here, but it's not yet the case that everyone is doing the same.

KELEMEN: On the sidelines of the summit, Syrian opposition leader and Western ally Khaled Khoja told NPR he thinks Russia's military aid to Assad will backfire and make things even more complicated in his country.

KHALED KHOJA: This situation will make the extreme groups who are fighting inside Syria recruiting much more fighters against the Russians, so this will fuel the war inside Syria and make the situation much more chaotic.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials insist they are working with Russia on some aspects of the conflict. They've come up with a sanctions blacklist that includes several people from Russia's North Caucasus region who are now key players in ISIS. The U.S. has also slapped sanctions on people from Pakistan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia who are said to be helping to raise money and recruits for ISIS.

Going after the funding stream is just one part of the battle. Speakers at today's summit also talked about the need to step up the ideological fight. Here's Jordan's King Abdullah.


ABDULLAH II BIN AL-HUSSEIN: This is first and foremost our struggle. Muslim nation have to lead this fight to protect and show the true nature of our religion.

KELEMEN: British prime minister David Cameron says he thinks Western nations must also do more to win the propaganda war and stop radicalization at home.


DAVID CAMERON: It means we have to root out the extremist preachers that are poisoning the minds of young Muslims in our country. We have to build more integrated societies so young people feel they truly belong. And we need to make sure we don't allow the incubation of an extremist worldview even before it gets to justifying violence. We've got to get it out of our schools, get it out of our prisons, get it out of our universities.

KELEMEN: U.S. intelligence officials estimate that 30,000 foreign fighters have gone to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria in the past few years, including about 250 Americans. Today's summit was meant to show how the world is coming together on this, but each country has its own priorities. That was shown again when Turkey's prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, called for action against Kurdish rebels. Though, the U.S. sees ethnic Kurds as partners in the war on ISIS.


AHMET DAVUTOGLU: One terrorist fighting the other will not legitimize it. We want our partners and friends to support Turkey in its fight against all type of terrorism.

KELEMEN: And he says he sees no difference between ISIS and the Kurdish rebel group known as the PKK. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the United Nations. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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