French President Francois Hollande told Russia's Vladimir Putin on Thursday that world powers must create a "grand coalition" to combat Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters who control swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.
Hollande’s comments come amid calls from international leaders to ramp up efforts against ISIL in the Middle East and around the world following the attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.
ISIL has also said it downed a Russian plane on Oct. 31 over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, killing all 224 people on board.
"Our enemy is Daesh, Islamic State, it has territory, an army and resources, so we must create this large coalition to hit these terrorists," Hollande said, using alternative names for ISIL, in televised remarks at the start of bilateral talks with the Russian leader in the Kremlin.
Putin said that Russia was mourning for Paris victims and those who died in the downing of the Russian passenger plane over Egypt. He praised Hollande's efforts to build a coalition and said that Moscow was open for stronger cooperation.
“It is for [the victims of the attacks] that we must act,” French newspaper Le Figaro quoted Hollande as saying.
Earlier Thursday, British Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande had urged Britain to join the military campaign and argued that the Paris attacks have given new urgency to the fight against ISIL.
"These are our closest allies and they want our help," he said.
Cameron, who lost a vote on air strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces in 2013, needs to persuade several lawmakers in his own Conservative Party and some in the opposition Labour Party to back his cause if he is to win parliament's backing for military action.
Germany, meanwhile, has decided to send reconnaissance aircraft, tanker planes and a warship to help in the fight against ISIL.
Hollande's visit comes two days after he met with President Barack Obama in Washington, where both leaders vowed to escalate airstrikes against ISIL and bolster intelligence sharing.
Hollande's difficult task became even more arduous after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday. The incident underscored the complex military landscape in Syria, where a sprawling cast of countries and rebel groups are engaged on the battlefield and in the skies overhead, sometimes with minimal coordination.
The French president hopes to make progress on three priority issues: to prevent Assad from targeting civilians, to focus the airstrikes on ISIL fighters – not other groups that comprise the Syrian opposition – and to move forward on a political transition in Syria.
France will also seek to "avoid an escalation" between Russia and Turkey, according to a French diplomatic official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
In advance of Hollande's meeting with Putin, France sought to dismiss concerns that it might soften its stance on international sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in exchange for Russia's cooperation in the fight against ISIL. France's ambassador to the U.S., Gerard Araud, tweeted on Tuesday evening that "Hollande has confirmed the sanctions will be maintained as long as the Minsk agreements are not implemented."
Araud was referring to peace agreements for eastern Ukraine forged in the Belarusian capital in February.
Following his meeting with the French president, Obama said Russian cooperation in the fight against IS would be "enormously helpful." Both Obama and Hollande, however, insisted that a political transition in Syria must lead to Assad's departure. Russia, on the other hand, has been Assad's staunchest ally.
Last week, Hollande called for the U.S. and Russia to set aside their policy divisions over Syria and "fight this terrorist army in a broad, single coalition." But his office acknowledges that "coordination" sounds like a far more realistic goal.
With two suspects of the Paris attacks at large, tensions were still high in Belgium on Thursday with the capital, Brussels. But authorities lowered the threat level in Brussels to the second-highest level.
Since Saturday morning, Brussels – home to the European Union and NATO headquarters – had been wary of a threat that was considered "serious and imminent."
The lowering of the threat level came as a surprise, since the government had said that it would likely keep the highest threat level in the capital through the weekend.
Authorities launched a raid in southern Belgium on Thursday afternoon linked to the Paris attacks, but didn't detain any suspects.
In Brussels, a civil protection squad decontaminated several people as a precaution at the main mosque after a suspicious parcel arrived. The person who opened the package discovered white powder and immediately contacted authorities. A specialized crew from the fire department was sent, witnesses at the scene said.
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet decided in the wake of the Paris attacks to send reconnaissance aircraft, tanker planes and a warship to help in the fight against ISIL. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters that the government had also agreed to provide satellite surveillance.
During Merkel's visit in Paris on Wednesday, Hollande had said it would "be a very good signal in the fight against terrorism" if Germany could do more against ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Von der Leyen said the warship would help protect France's aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean and the tanker planes could help refuel French warplanes in the air. The satellite surveillance could provide important information on IS and also help protect civilians with precise information.
The reconnaissance aircrafts will also support France in its fight against Islamist extremists.
The decision still needs parliamentary approval, but it was expected to not meet much resistance by lawmakers.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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