President Barack Obama has wrapped up the NATO summit in Britain, saying the alliance has agreed to play a role in fighting Islamic State militants
The summit’s main focus was on how to deal with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and come up with ways to deter Moscow from threatening NATO allies in eastern Europe.
Much of the U.S. president’s attention, at least on the sidelines, however, was on confronting the threat posed by militants of the Islamic State, or ISIL.
Obama indicated there was no question among NATO members that the alliance has a critical role to play in degrading and eventually defeating the militants.
“There was unanimity over the last two days that ISIL poses a significant threat to NATO members, and there was a recognition that we have to take action,” he said.
He did not announce any specific additional actions that NATO members might take.
Allies have been supporting U.S. and Iraqi forces, providing intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as humanitarian assistance to those threatened by the militants, and weapons to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish forces fighting the militants.
The president is also seeking to have Arab countries, and specifically majority Sunni states, join actively in the fight and said he is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to consult with leaders in the region.
On the sidelines of the summit, the president held meetings with Jordan’s King Abdullah and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
On Russia, the summit concluded with approval of a plan to create a rapid reaction force to confront any attempt by Moscow to attack NATO members in eastern Europe. The plan is to position more NATO troops and equipment as a visible sign that the alliance will defend its members - a message that Obama has emphasized throughout this trip.
“What it signifies is NATO’s recognition that in light of recent Russian actions as well as rhetoric, we want to make it crystal clear: We mean what we say when we’re talking about our Article 5 commitments and an increased presence serves as the most effective deterrent to any additional Russian aggression that we might see,” he said.
The U.S. leader said he remains skeptical about a Ukraine cease-fire that was reached Friday. He said the United States and Europe are preparing sanctions to further strike at Russia’s key energy, weapons, and financial sectors.
Paul Pillar, of Georgetown University's Center for Security Studies, says Iraq has a political process that the U.S. and its allies can work with.
He says the situation is much different in Syria, where the incumbent government is one that the U.S. has said must go.
“The very uncomfortable situation that we and the allies face in Syria is that there does not seem to be a good way to confront ISIS or ISIL in Syria without, in effect, working with the regime that we have pledged to overthrow," said Pillar.
However, he does not think a coalition plan that focuses mostly on the Islamic State in Iraq will inadvertently help the militant group grow in neighboring Syria.
“I don't see any negative effect on our objective in Syria by measures in Iraq that would be directed against ISIL to the extent that if the group would be weakened in either of those two countries, it would be weakened overall, as far as its efforts in both countries," he said.
Pamela Dockins in Washington contributed to this report.