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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

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Arab League vows to take all necessary measures to defeat Islamic State

Arab states agreed at a meeting of foreign ministers in Cairo Sunday to take the “necessary measures” to confront the Islamic State as President Barack Obama prepares to go to lawmakers and the American public with his own plan to stop the militants.

“The Arab foreign ministers have agreed to take the necessary measures to confront terrorist groups including” IS, Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby said at a news conference, although the final statement stopped short of explicitly backing U.S. airstrikes on the jihadists who control swaths of Iraq and Syria.

The ministers agreed to “take all measures to counter terrorism: political, security and ideological,” Elaraby said.

The Arab League also endorsed in the closing statement of its meeting a U.N. Security Council resolution passed last month calling on member states to “act to suppress the flow of foreign fighters, financing and other support to Islamist extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.”

And in a change of position, the final statement called for Syrian opposition groups to hold talks with the state aimed at creating a reconciliation government.

Obama will meet with congressional leaders Tuesday and then outline his plan to tackle IS to the war-weary American public Wednesday, the eve of the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

“I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we’re going to deal with it and to have confidence that we’ll be able to deal with it,” Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what steps the Arab League would take in supporting the West’s campaign against IS.

At the opening session in Cairo, several foreign ministers spoke of the gravity of the challenge posed by IS in Iraq as well as the violence that has engulfed Libya and other regions.

Elaraby noted that the Arab League’s member states have failed to help each other in the past when facing local armed groups, often because of disagreements and fear of being accused of meddling in one another’s affairs.

He said the rise of IS in Iraq challenged not merely the authority of the state but “its very existence and the existence of other states” and called for a decisive resolution to confront terrorism militarily, politically, economically and culturally.

He urged the foreign ministers to take “a clear decision for a comprehensive confrontation, militarily and politically.”

Before the Arab League meeting, he spoke by telephone to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss ISIS.

A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly discuss the private diplomatic conversation, said that Kerry updated Elaraby on efforts to combat the insurgents.

“They discussed the need for the Arab League and its members to take a strong position in the coalition that is developing ... and the importance of decisive action” to stop the flow of foreign fighters, disrupt IS financing and combat incitement, the official said.

Kerry said the military aspect is only one part of the effort, and more comprehensive coordination with Arab countries – combining law enforcement, intelligence, economic and diplomatic tools – is required, the official said.

Speaking to NBC, Obama restated his opposition to sending U.S. ground troops to engage in direct combat in Iraq.

At Obama’s direction, the U.S. military has conducted more than 130 airstrikes against IS militants in Iraq in the past month. Lawmakers have pressed Obama to expand the airstrikes into Syria. He has resisted so far, but said he has asked his military advisers for options for pursuing the group there.

In the interview, Obama said the U.S. would not go after IS, but would operate as part of an international coalition and continue airstrikes to support ground efforts that would be carried out by Iraqi and Kurdish troops.

Obama’s emerging strategy depends on the formation of a new government in Iraq, as well as cooperation and contributions from regional partners, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey.

“What I want people to understand ... is that over the course of months, we are going to be able to not just blunt the momentum of IS,” he said, using an alternate name for the group. “We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We’re going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we’re going to defeat them.”

Obama’s political allies have criticized him for not reacting to IS quickly enough.

“Time’s a-wasting, because we’ve now said we’re going to go on the offensive and it’s time for America to project power and strength,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said on CNN Sunday.

Republican lawmaker Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, welcomed signs of fresh clarity from the administration on how to tackle IS.

“There’s been some confusion coming out of the administration – this is the toughest talk that we’ve heard from the president,” Rogers said, also on CNN. “That’s a good thing, because they are a threat.”

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