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Obama Plans Prime Time Speech on Islamic State Threat

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Editor's note: VOA will provide live online analysis and coverage of President Barack Obama's Wednesday night address to the nation. Coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. EDT, followed immediately by the president's speech. Just go to

President Barack Obama is preparing to lay out his strategy against militants of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria when he delivers an address to Americans Wednesday night.

President Obama plans to deliver his address Wednesday after drawing widespread criticism last month when he said he did not yet have a strategy to counter the militants who have taken over areas of Iraq, threatened minorities and beheaded two American journalists on video that horrified Americans.

In the past months, the president has been reluctant to expand military operations in Iraq, as polls showed Americans were weary following a decade of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But a major poll conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News this week shows Americans surveyed overwhelmingly view the Islamic State group as a serious threat to U.S. interests, and widely support air strikes against the group.

At a briefing Tuesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president believes confronting Islamic State militants is a high national security priority.

“The president has been specific about what the end game is. The president believes that we need to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. That is the end game," said Earnest.

Earnest said the address will be about the next phase of U.S. efforts against the militants, beyond the current round of air strikes that U.S. forces are carrying out against the militants.

“What the president will talk about tomorrow is what are the steps we need to take in order to get us there," he said.

Those steps include bolstering the inclusive government that Iraq’s new leadership has set up, building international support for the effort against the militants and securing commitments from governments in the region to, among other things, support the moderate Syrian opposition.

The speech is planned as Secretary of State John Kerry travels to the Middle East to meet with leaders in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

White House officials said President Obama will not announce the return of combat troops to Iraq, nor will he give a timetable for U.S. military operations in the country. U.S. officials have said the operation will be long-term, with some saying the effort could go on for years.

Analysts say Wednesday’s speech comes at a crucial time in Obama’s presidency, with the latest polls showing his public approval ratings at record or near-record lows, and more than half of those surveyed saying they believe his presidency has been a failure.

The administration hopes the announcement of a comprehensive strategy at a time when polls are showing Americans favor a more aggressive approach against the militants will help change that perception.

Growing public support

Public opinion surveys have shown growing support in the United States for more air attacks on the Islamic State, especially since the wide broadcast of Islamic State videos showing the militants beheading two American journalists.

Despite the attacks, a segment of the public and some lawmakers are voicing concerns about expanded U.S. military involvement in the Mideast at the same time the U.S. is winding down its 13-year fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Obama says he has the authority to "go on the offensive" against the Islamic State. But some U.S. lawmakers have called for extensive debate in Congress on U.S. policies in the region before any Syrian mission is undertaken.

Meeting with congressional leaders

The president also met Tuesday with the top four congressional leaders, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell from the Senate, along with the House Republican leader, Speaker John Boehner, and the top House Democrat, Nancy Pelosi.

The President began the meeting by laying out some of the ideas he has already discussed publicly about how to combat ISIL threat.

McConnell is calling for a congressional vote on whatever strategy Obama adopts for attacking the insurgents.

An aide to Republican House Speaker John Boehner says the speaker backs some of the actions Obama has already proposed. This includes bolstering Iraqi security forces and training and equipping the Syrian opposition.

The aide says Boehner would support the president if he decides to deploy U.S. forces to help train and advise Iraqi forces and help with the lethal targeting of Islamic State leadership.

Islamic State has taken over large parts of northern Iraq and Syria, terrorizing religious minorities and non-Muslims. It also recently beheaded two U.S. journalists in Syria and put the grisly scenes on the Internet.

Government officials also are briefing all 535 members of Congress in the next few days on the Islamic State threat and how the U.S. plans to respond.

The president pulled the last U.S. combat troops out of Iraq three years ago following a nine-year war. But he has dispatched about 1,000 advisers to Baghdad and ordered extensive airstrikes against the insurgents in Iraq.

VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez contributed to this report.

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