Middle East Updates / Paris Wants Iran to Help Crush Islamic State

Merkel: Germany will not join airstrikes against Islamic State; U.S. pledges $500 million aid for people, nations hit by Syria war; Germany bans Islamic State symbols, propaganda; in Baghdad, Hollande and Iraqi officials discuss possible French airstrikes on Islamic State targets.

AFP

Haaretz's latest analyses and opinions on the Middle East: Obama's speech on Islamic State: He’s no George Bush but not his old self either (Chemi Shalev) | Netanyahu’s urgent meeting inflates danger of Islamic State (Amos Harel) | Air strikes won’t defeat Islamic State (Zvi Bar'el)

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Latest updates:

10:43 P.M. The UN nuclear agency said that it is studying a request from Iran that it condemn the purported incursion of an Israeli drone.

Gill Tudor, spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the Iranian letter, dated Sept. 9, had been circulated to the agency's 162 member states.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard last month said that it shot down an Israeli drone near the country's uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, south of Tehran.

Alluding to the incident, the letter said Iran "reserves the right to undertake all legitimate necessary measures to defend its territory." And it says it expects the IAEA "to condemn this act of aggression."

6:30 P.M. France is prepared to invite Iran to an international conference Monday aimed at coordinating actions to knock out the Islamic State extremists in Iraq — even though that runs counter to the U.S. refusal to deal with Tehran.

The position reflects a recent shift in France's policy toward Iran, a Shiite Muslim nation and neighbor of Iraq that joins regional states and the West in adamantly opposing the advance of the radicals. Tehran's long-time influence in Sunni Iraq, including at times a military presence, makes it a logical partner in France's eyes.

A French official helping to plan the conference says the only hitch is agreeing with partners, but added "we are not far from a consensus." The official, who was not authorized to be publicly named, didn't elaborate.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made the American position clear Wednesday in Baghdad. "The United States does not cooperate, militarily or otherwise, nor does it have any intention in this process of doing so, with Iran," he said.

Iran is embroiled in a nuclear dispute with the international community which fears Tehran's nuclear capabilities will be used to make weapons. But French President Francois Hollande says that is a separate issue.

France has staked a tough stance in the nuclear dispute, but is viewing Iranian help in the region with pragmatism, stressing the overlapping concerns of Iraq, Iran and the West about the dangers posed by the Islamic State group. Paris believes Tehran should not be excluded from the effort to crush the radicals who now control a wide swath of Iraq.

France began arming Kurdish fighters against the Islamic State group last month.
Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Danaee, said Friday that Iran would be happy to participate in the Paris conference since it has a great interest in the stabilization of Iraq. He added that Iran is prepared to offer any support to its neighbor and hopes the conference will yield successful results. (AP)

2:19 P.M. The German government will not take part in air strikes proposed by the United States against Islamic State militants, an aide to Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday.

"The stabilisation of the region is of great concern to the German government but I can rule out participation in military air strikes," said Merkel's spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz. (Reuters)

1:10 P.M. German authorities have banned all activity on behalf of the Islamic State extremist group, including the distribution of propaganda material and the display of its symbols.

The decree issued Friday closes a legal gap that made it difficult to prosecute Islamic State supporters in Germany.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said in a statement the group represents a "threat to public security in Germany" and its recruitment efforts need to be stopped. Security agencies estimate at least 400 people from Germany have joined the Islamic State group and similar organizations.

The Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper reported this week that a German citizen identified only as Silvio K. had published a video threatening attacks against Germany because of the country's support for Kurds fighting the Islamic State group. (AP)

12:56 P.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday nearly $500 million in humanitarian aid for people and countries hit by Syria's civil war.

The aid package includes more than $250 million "to assist refugees and host communities in the neighbouring countries affected by the crisis," Kerry said in a statement. (Reuters)

8:21 A.M. French President Francois Hollande is visiting Iraq as his country prepares possible airstrikes with a U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State extremists who have seized territory around the region.

French radio says Hollande landed in Baghdad on Friday morning. He and his defense and foreign ministers are to meet Iraq's new prime minister and president.

Hollande and Iraqi officials are expected to discuss possible French airstrikes on Islamic State targets. If the Iraqi government requests such action, French strikes could start very soon, in coordination with the United States.

Hollande's visit and a conference that Paris is hosting next week on Iraq are the first steps by France in a long-term effort to bolster the Iraqi government and weaken militants from the Islamic State group. (AP)

1:55 A.M. The Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives voiced support Thursday for U.S. President Barack Obama's expanded campaign against Islamic State militants, but members of his party questioned whether the plan to rely mainly on air strikes and arming Syrian rebels was forceful enough.

House Speaker John Boehner said Obama had made a "compelling case for action" but said the president must provide Republicans with more details about his strategy. "It's important to give the president what he has asked for," he told a news conference.

Congress' Republican leaders generally supported Obama's plans but must work to unite various factions within their party, including members deeply skeptical of Obama's leadership and spending plans and others who want the United States to cut back sharply on foreign military involvement.

Boehner said Republican House members have doubts about whether Obama's plan can accomplish his mission of destroying a militant group whose fighters have killed thousands of people in recent months.

"An F-16 is not a strategy. And air strikes alone will not accomplish what we're trying to accomplish. The president's made clear that he doesn't want boots on the ground, well somebody's boots have to be on the ground," the Ohio representative said.

In a televised address on Wednesday night, the Democratic president declared he would lead an alliance to root out Islamic State, plunging the United States into two conflicts in which nearly every country in the Middle East has a stake.

The White House argued that Obama does not need Congress' formal authorization for the effort, but they want legislators' support to show a united front both against opponents and to other nations asked to become allies. (Reuters)