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Russia,France Agree to Cooperate on IS 11/27 06:40

   The presidents of France and Russia agreed Thursday to tighten cooperation 
in the fight against the Islamic State group, although they remained at odds 
over their approach toward Syrian President Bashar Assad.

   MOSCOW (AP) -- The presidents of France and Russia agreed Thursday to 
tighten cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group, although they 
remained at odds over their approach toward Syrian President Bashar Assad.

   IS has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against both of the 
countries' citizens in recent weeks: Nov. 13 shootings and suicide bombings in 
Paris which killed 130 people, and the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian passenger 
jet over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula that claimed 224 lives.

   French President Francois Hollande has been on a diplomatic drive since the 
Paris attacks to increase cooperation in tackling IS, which holds swathes of 
territory in both Syria and Iraq. He has met this week with President Barak 
Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi 
before flying to Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian President Vladimir 

   Hollande and Putin agreed on increasing intelligence sharing, intensifying 
their airstrikes against IS in Syria and cooperating on selecting targets --- 
two days after Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian border.

   "We agreed on a very important issue: To strike the terrorists only, Daesh 
and the jihadi groups only, and not to strike the forces and the groups that 
are fighting against the terrorists," Hollande said after the meeting, 
referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. "And we are going to exchange some 
information about that: what can be struck, and what must not be struck."

   But the two countries remain at odds in their approach toward Assad, with 
Hollande saying the Syrian head of state "does not have his place in Syria's 
future," and Putin stressing that "the Syrian president's fate should be 
entirely in the hands of the Syrian people."

   Putin described Assad's army as a "natural ally" in the fight against IS --- 
an essential force capable of battling the extremist group on the ground. He 
added that Russia was ready to cooperate with other groups ready to fight IS.

   Russia has been Assad's staunchest ally, and has come under criticism for 
targeting some rebel groups who are fighting against both IS and Assad in 
Syria's multifaceted and complex civil war.

   Obama, after meeting with Hollande, had said Russian cooperation in the 
fight against IS would be "enormously helpful." The U.S. has also insisted that 
a political transition in Syria must lead to Assad's departure.

   "We view the U.S.-led coalition with respect and stand ready to cooperate 
with it," Putin said. "We believe that we would better create a single, united 
coalition as it would be easier, simpler and more efficient to coordinate our 
work that way."

   However, he said, "if our partners aren't ready for that, OK, we are ready 
to work in a different format that is acceptable to our partners. We are ready 
to cooperate with the U.S.-led coalition."

   Last week, Hollande called for the U.S. and Russia to set aside their policy 
divisions over Syria and "fight this terrorist army in a broad, single 
coalition." But his office acknowledges that "coordination" sounds like a far 
more realistic goal.

   While pledging closer cooperation, Putin also harshly criticized Washington 
for failing to prevent the downing of a Russian warplane engaged in airstrikes 
in Syria by NATO member Turkey on Tuesday --- an action which underscored the 
complex military landscape in Syria, where a sprawling cast of countries and 
rebel groups are engaged on the battlefield and in the skies overhead, 
sometimes with minimal coordination.

   Turkey said it shot down the Russian Su-24 bomber after it flew into its 
airspace for 17 seconds despite repeated warnings. Putin dismissed the Turkish 
claim of intrusion and held the U.S. responsible for failing to rein in its 
ally, saying that Russia had informed the U.S. about its military flights in 
the area in advance.

   Putin denounced the Turkish action, saying it "thoughtlessly and rudely" 
destroyed friendly ties between the two countries. Russia will protect its 
warplanes from now on with long-range S-400 air defense missiles deployed at 
its air base in Syria, as well as escort fighters and electronic 
countermeasures, he said.

   Hollande described the shoot-down as a "serious incident, obviously 
regrettable" that underlined the need for closer coordination between nations 
fighting IS.

   "It is crucial in that period to avoid any risk, any incident, and prevent 
any escalation," Hollande said. "The only goal we must have is fighting Daesh 
and neutralize the terrorists. There is no other goal."

   In Germany, Merkel's Cabinet decided to send reconnaissance aircraft, tanker 
planes and a warship to help in the fight against IS. Defense Minister Ursula 
von der Leyen said the government had also agreed to provide satellite 

   During Merkel's visit in Paris on Wednesday, Hollande had said it would "be 
a very good signal in the fight against terrorism" if Germany could do more 
against IS in Syria and Iraq.

   Von der Leyen said the warship would help protect France's aircraft carrier 
in the eastern Mediterranean and the tanker planes could help refuel French 
warplanes in the air. The satellite surveillance could provide important 
information on IS and also help protect civilians with precise information.

   Germany currently provides weapons and training for Kurds fighting against 
IS in Iraq.

   The decision still needs parliamentary approval, but it was expected to not 
meet much resistance by lawmakers.

   Putin said Russia was mourning for Paris victims as well as those who were 
killed in the Russian passenger plane bombing, and praised Hollande's efforts 
to build an anti-terror coalition.

   At least two known suspects of the Paris attacks are still at large, with a 
manhunt continuing in France and Belgium for their capture.

   Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens said Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam was 
"likely" getting support from others, saying it was unlikely Abdeslam could 
hide despite a nearly two-week manhunt without help.

   Belgian authorities carried out three raids linked to the Paris attacks 
Thursday outside of the capital, Brussels, but made no arrests. Five suspects 
are already in custody in Belgium on terrorism charges related to the attacks.

   Hours later, Prime Minister Charles Michel announced the alert level in 
Brussels was being lowered one notch from the highest level, on which it has 
been since Saturday. Subways are to reopen fully on Friday. Despite the 
reduction in alert level, Michel said an attack remained "possible and likely."

   The lowering of the threat level came as a surprise, since the government 
had said it would likely keep the highest threat level until Monday. Michel did 
not give a reason for the reduction.


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