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Constancy of U.S. leadership is concern for some anti-Islamic State coalition partners – Part 2

September 23, 2014 at 9:35 PM EDT
Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff from the United Nations to discuss the international reaction to the new campaign against the Islamic State in Syria, and to offer some additional background on the latest American target, the Khorasan group.
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 JUDY WOODRUFF: Now back to the U.S. and partners’ airstrikes inside Syria.

Our chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner is at the United Nations this week, and she has more on the international reaction to the new campaign.

Hello, Margaret.

So, you have been talking to a lot of people today. What is the reaction there to these airstrikes?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Judy, since the president has signaled that he was going to take the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIL, or ISIS, into Syria, as well as Iraq, it didn’t come as a shock here, but the reaction was, well, where you stand is where you sit.

So, I went to a small breakfast this morning with President Rouhani of Iran. He declared them absolutely illegal because it was violating the sovereignty of the Syrian government, that Syria had not given its permission. And he further said that the only way to defeat ISIS in this whole region is, you’re going to have to partner essentially with the Syrian government.

He said the Syrian opposition can’t be — you can’t be both fighting the only government that could step in, as the Iraqi government could step in and reclaim territory. You can’t do both fights at once.

Now, President Erdogan of Turkey, whom I actually saw at a small briefing or gathering yesterday — of course, he didn’t know about the strikes yet, but Turkey clearly didn’t join the coalition, didn’t play ball. He said to Secretary Kerry when they met two or three weeks ago, look, as long as ISIS has 49 hostages of our diplomatic corps, we can’t do anything, but after we get them out, which they did last weekend, that perhaps we can.

I thought the most interesting reaction, Judy, was from the five Gulf states, or Jordan and the four Gulf states that did participate. None of them boasted about it. And I saw one of them late this afternoon. And, unfortunately, I cannot name who he was, who said, this is very sensitive for us. We’re now partnering with the United States. But we have got a reputation on the line, and what we keep asking the Americans is, what comes the day after?

And he left the suggestion that they really don’t have an answer yet.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, so, Margaret, it’s interesting because a number of these countries have been critical of the U.S.’s uncertain leadership. Are they taking a different tone about that today because of the U.S. leading these strikes?

MARGARET WARNER: You know, Judy, you put your finger right on it.

That is — the concern is the constancy of U.S. leadership. I mean, from President Obama saying he would strike Syria last year over chemical weapons and then backing off or announcing he’s going to Afghanistan, but announcing an end date, even countries that didn’t want the U.S. to do those things were shaken or rattled by that.

And so these countries do feel they could be out on a limb. They have joined this public coalition now with the United States. So that is the — I would say that is the number one concern. And I still think the United States has a long way to go to persuade them that they’re in it, that this president is in it for the long haul.

When I did ask this Gulf leader about this, I said, do you have any doubts about the president’s constancy, he went, you will have to ask him.

So, I think that concern remains.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, Margaret, we know the U.S. on its own undertook these strikes against this group we really haven’t heard very much about before, this Khorasan group, this al-Qaida — they’re called veteran al-Qaida fighters. What are you hearing about that?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, U.S. officials today from — well, I can’t say from where — gave a briefing for all of us. And they really got into it. They said, these are seasoned operatives. They come out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their specialty is recruiting foreign fighters, bringing them, training them, sending them back, explosive devices, mounting attacks on homelands in various parts of the country, and moving money and materiel around.

And they saw a safe haven they could exploit, and they moved into Syria into this area. They’re not necessarily affiliated with ISIS, but U.S. intelligence had received what they said was credible information that a big plot against they said U.S. interests and European allies was in the works, was imminent. President Obama went to CENTCOM late last week, gave the word to do it. It was just also convenient that it coincided with the decision to also launch the airstrikes against I.S. militants in Syria.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Margaret, thank you very much. And you are going to be in New York all this week covering these U.N. meetings. We thank you.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Judy.

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