PARIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande hopes to spur Washington to greater action against Islamic State, but it is unclear to what extent he can overcome the White House’s reluctance to get sucked further into the Syria conflict.
U.S. President Barack Obama welcomes Hollande to the White House on Tuesday in the shadow of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks claimed by the Islamic State militant group that killed 130 and demonstrated its ability and will to hit the Continent.
Within days of the attacks, the United States announced it would share more threat intelligence and operational military information with France, a step which helped France strike Syrian targets in the days after the violence in Paris.
Speaking before Hollande’s trip, which will be followed by a visit to Russia later in the week, French officials made no secret of their desire to see the United States do more.
“The message that we want to send to the Americans is simply that the crisis is becoming a sort of risk destabilising Europe,” said a senior French official. “The attacks in Paris and the refugee crisis show that we don’t have time.”
French officials made clear they are not talking about putting Western combat troops on the ground, though they said the possibility of deploying French special operations forces had been discussed.
They also stressed that the United States could do more in its bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria.
“American power, in theory, would allow the United States to hit much harder,” said a second French official. “Two years of sanctuary for Daesh in Syria is enough,” he added, using an Arabic term for Islamic State.
Speaking in Antalya, Turkey last week, Obama made clear his desire to help France but signalled no shift in strategy.
The U.S. strategy, as described by Obama, includes air strikes that began after the militant group seized swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria last year; working with local forces rather than putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground; and pursuing a diplomatic solution to end the Syrian civil war.
In an Oct. 30 policy shift, the White House announced plans to deploy up to 50 U.S. special operations forces to Syria.
“So there will be an intensification of the strategy,” Obama said. “But as I said from the start, it’s going to take time.”
One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States and France were already ramping up cooperation and expressed hope that next week’s talks could prompt others in the anti-Islamic State coalition to do more.
“This should not just fall to the United States,” this U.S. official said. “Certainly, the U.S. has been in the lead role. But one of the real opportunities in the wake of Paris is for others - European countries, Gulf states, for this coalition as a whole - to do more and for other players to step up and do more of the heavy lifting here.”
Reporting by John Irish in Paris and by Arshad Mohammed and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Jonathan Oatis