Russia

Islamic Terrorism Forces Russia And West Together

This week's UN General Assembly highlighted the need for cooperation in the fight against ISIS and other Islamic terror networks. And that could extend to sworn enemies.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
Sergei Strokan and Elena Chernenko

MOSCOW — The central issue at this week's United Nations General Assembly was how to combat international terrorism, with the United States eager to take the lead and set the tone.

Many U.S. government officials have a complicated relationship with the United Nations, seeing it primarily as an organization that is apt to challenge and undermine American leadership. But it was clear on Wednesday that the United States is taking the international organization seriously: President Barack Obama chaired the meeting of the Security Council on Wednesday that voted unanimously to take measures against global terrorism. It was only the second time Obama has personally attended a Security Council meeting.

Still, the various announcements from Obama and his closest advisors intending to explain their strategy on the fight against terrorism in Iraq and Syria have sometimes been contradictory. After Obama's Sept. 10 speech outlining his strategy in the fight against the Islamic radical group ISIS, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry both categorically refused to admit that the U.S. considered ISIS a bonafide military force. Rear Admiral John Kirby then said, "Yes, we know we are at war" with the terrorist group.

Diplomats say this is a sign of confusion and lack of a clear understanding about what is needed to ward off this threat, which could turn out to be even more serious than al-Qaeda.

Behind this confusion there's another, more complex problem. As the United States tried to assemble a "coalition of the willing," there weren't many takers among its Western and regional allies. The recent conference of world leaders in Paris, organized to address the growing threat of ISIS, illustrated that many of Washington's friends don't want to join the fight against the terrorist group.

Clarity brings unity

Given that situation, the U.S. therefore needs the United Nations, and the ability to work with all countries, including those, like Russia, that are not traditional allies. One of Kerry's goals for his meeting this week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was to clarify Russia's possible role in a coalition against ISIS.

The Security Council adopted Obama's resolution unanimously. It was the first serious problem in six months that the Security Council was able to agree on in order to pass a resolution.

A source in the Russian diplomatic corps explains that Moscow had "been paying attention to the dangerous phenomenon described in it (the resolution) for a long time." But the source says that it was extremely important to the Russian government that the resolution specifically mention ISIS and other radical groups linked to al-Qaeda.

The problem is that Moscow has taken note of comments from a number of U.S. State Department representatives that could be taken to mean that Washington would like to widen the territory covered by the resolution to other regions. Before the current ceasefire in eastern Ukraine's Donbas, many Western countries supported Kiev's requests to declare the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic terrorist organizations, to which Russia adamantly objected.

In the end, the document remained strictly limited to al-Qaeda-related groups, and Russia did not use its veto to block the resolution. Lavrov, however, did use the meeting to level pointed criticism at the United States, saying that the problem with international terrorism has gotten much worse after the U.S. intervention in Iraq, the bombing campaign in Libya and Western support for extremists in Syria.

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