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Obama To Host French President At The White House


French President Francois Hollande is in Washington this morning for talks with President Obama. It's part of a week of shuttle diplomacy for the French leader seeking a more robust international response to the terrorist group behind the deadly attacks in Paris. Hollande meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. NPR's Scott Horsley has a preview.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama says he'd welcome having Russian warplanes join the French and American jets now taking aim at ISIS targets. But the president's not holding his breath. So far, Russia has seemed more interested in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad than training its firepower on ISIS. Obama says it's too soon to tell whether the terror group's downing of a Russian jetliner will change Vladimir Putin's calculation.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: He needs to go after the people who killed Russian citizens. And those aren't the groups that they are currently hitting with strikes.

HORSLEY: And that's the obvious catch in Hollande's effort to build a united front against ISIS. The U.S. and Russia have fundamentally different views of the Syrian civil war that forms the backdrop to that fight.


OBAMA: Moscow still is interested in keeping Assad in power. We do not believe that we can arrive at a political settlement so long as he remains president.

HORSLEY: While Russia sees Assad as a bulwark against terrorism, Obama sees the Syrian president as a recruiting tool for the group. Every time Assad attacks his own citizens, Obama says, it drives more people into the arms of ISIS. Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Center says bridging those different viewpoints will not be easy. But only Russia has the necessary leverage if Assad is to be pushed out.

AARON DAVID MILLER: For better or worse, right or wrong, we need Putin if there is going to be any resolution and any kind of political transition in Syria.

HORSLEY: Obama and Hollande will also talk about ways to intensify their own military campaign against ISIS. Yesterday, the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle began launching sorties against ISIS targets. Terrorism expert Jessica Stern cautions ISIS is no ordinary enemy. And Stern, who's co-author of "ISIS: The State Of Terror," says stepped-up military attacks could have the perverse effect of boosting ISIS in the eyes of followers elsewhere.

JESSICA STERN: They excel at psychological warfare. This is what they are best at. They want to polarize non-Muslims against Muslims. That feeds right into what they are trying to achieve.

HORSLEY: Stern says allies also have to consider the so-called day after problem. What happens to parts of Syria if ISIS is driven out?

STERN: We can remove this organization, but what will take its place in Syria? If we leave Syria with a complete leadership vacuum, ISIS will rise again - ISIS or something like it.

HORSLEY: All of this presents a challenge to the grand coalition the French president is trying to organize. ISIS has created enemies the world over, Stern says, but that doesn't automatically mean those enemies will cooperate. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.