PARIS—President Barack Obama said he sees no immediate shift in Russia’s Syria strategy, lowering expectations that Moscow would stop targeting Western-backed rebels and begin focusing airstrikes on Islamic State.
A day after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the U.S. president said there are signs his Russian counterpart recognizes the Syrian conflict won’t be settled through military force alone. However, Mr. Obama said the two leaders remain at odds over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia has spent years keeping Mr. Assad in power, Mr. Obama told a news conference in Paris, adding that Moscow’s “presence there is predicated on propping him up.”
Any shift in Moscow’s strategy is likely to emerge over a period of months rather than weeks, Mr. Obama said.
“I don’t think we should be under any illusions that somehow Russia starts hitting only ISIL targets,” Mr. Obama said, using another name for Islamic State.
Mr. Obama is in Paris to push for a sweeping climate accord. But his time in the French capital has been divided between discussions about the threat of global warming and meetings on the sidelines about the battle against Islamic State.
The U.S. president met separately Monday with Mr. Putin and French President François Hollande as the leaders continued to grapple with the question of whether they can forge a broader coalition to fight Islamic State.
In the aftermath of the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks that killed 130 people, Mr. Hollande has urged world leaders to forge this wider coalition to counter the threat of violent extremists. That effort got a boost this week when British Prime Minister David Cameron scheduled a Wednesday debate on whether the U.K. should join the airstrikes in Syria.
A vote is expected to follow the debate, paving the way for the arrival of British warplanes over Syria.
Still, significant divisions remain between Russia and Western nations. Mr. Obama repeated Tuesday that Mr. Assad cannot continue to serve as president, saying the Syrian leader couldn’t bring the country together.
U.S. and French officials have said that more of Russia’s firepower has been directed at Islamic State in recent weeks.
But the White House has described it as a “mixed picture,” saying Mr. Putin has continued targeting other rebel groups in Syria—including some backed by the West.
Write to Colleen McCain Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org