Carter heading to the Middle East, Kerry to Russia for coordination on Syria

Obama: As we squeeze its heart, we'll make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror.

US President Barack Obama speaking at the Pentagon (photo credit: JIM WATSON / AFP)
US President Barack Obama speaking at the Pentagon
(photo credit: JIM WATSON / AFP)
WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama dispatched two cabinet secretaries to Russia and the Middle East to further his two-pronged approach to the fight against Islamic State, he said at the Pentagon after a briefing on Monday.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is traveling to the Middle East to coordinate with allies in the military coalition against the terrorist group.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is bound for Moscow, where he will discuss with Russian President Vladimir Putin the prospects for a diplomatic solution to the Syrian civil war.
The president hopes to resolve the four and a half year conflict between embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and those fighting for his ouster – a war that has become a proxy battle between Sunni and Western powers against Russia and Iran in support of Assad – in order to focus the world’s war effort on its shared enemy, Islamic State.
Obama says the US would “continue to lead” the coalition of over 60 nations. “Our strategy is moving forward with a great sense of urgency,” he said.
“We are hitting ISIL [Islamic State] harder than ever,” Obama told reporters after the briefing, which included Carter, Kerry, the vice president, the treasury secretary, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and several others. “As we squeeze its heart, we’ll make it harder for ISIL to pump its terror.”
Islamic State, a self-declared Islamic caliphate, holds court in Raqqa, Syria, where it has controlled territory since 2014. The group continues to occupy land in Iraq, but 40 percent of that territory has been reclaimed since US-led airstrikes began, Obama noted.
The president also highlighted the fact that Islamic State – which seeks to expand its control throughout the entire historic Levant region – has failed to mount a single offensive in recent months.
Before traveling to Moscow, Kerry met with Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in Paris to discuss the war effort.
“The secretary was updated on Jordan’s efforts to coordinate the International Syria Support Group members’ efforts to identify those groups in Syria that would not participate in a political process or respect a cease-fire,” according to the State Department.
That group, which is the organization tasked with finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis, will meet in New York on December 18. They hope to set the groundwork for a meeting between Assad government officials and opposition groups sometime next month.