- The presidents of France and Russia agreed yesterday to tighten cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State group, although they remained at odds over their approach toward Syrian President Bashar Assad.
IS has claimed responsibility for deadly attacks against both of the countries' citizens in recent weeks: Nov. 13 shootings and suicide bombings in Paris which killed 130 people, and the Oct. 31 bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula that claimed 224 lives.
French President Francois Hollande has been on a diplomatic drive since the Paris attacks to increase cooperation in tackling IS, which holds swathes of territory in both Syria and Iraq. He has met this week with President Barak Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi before flying to Moscow yesterday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Hollande and Putin agreed on increasing intelligence sharing, intensifying their airstrikes against IS in Syria and cooperating on selecting targets - two days after Turkey downed a Russian warplane near the Syrian border.
"We agreed on a very important issue: To strike the terrorists only, Daesh and the jihadi groups only, and not to strike the forces and the groups that are fighting against the terrorists," Hollande said after the meeting, referring to IS by its Arabic acronym. "And we are going to exchange some information about that: what can be struck, and what must not be struck."
But the two countries remain at odds in their approach toward Assad, with Hollande saying the Syrian head of state "does not have his place in Syria's future," and Putin stressing that "the Syrian president's fate should be entirely in the hands of the Syrian people."
Turkey-Russia spat over plane escalates
- A tug-of-war over a Russian warplane downed by a Turkish fighter jet at the border with Syria escalated yesterday, with Moscow drafting a slew of economic sanctions against Turkey and the Turkish president defiantly declaring that his military will shoot down any new intruder.
The spat reflected a clash of ambitions of two strongman leaders, neither of whom appeared willing to back down and search for a compromise.
Turkey shot down the Russian Su-24 military jet on Tuesday, insisting it had violated its airspace despite repeated warnings. The incident marked the first time in half a century that a NATO member shot down a Russian plane, raising the threat of a military confrontation between the alliance and Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the Turkish action as a "treacherous stab in the back," and insisted that the plane was downed over Syrian territory in violation of international law.
"Until that moment, we haven't heard a clear apology from Turkey's top political leadership, or an offer to compensate for the damage or a promise to punish the criminals," he said at the Kremlin while receiving credentials from several ambassadors. "It gives an impression that the Turkish leadership is deliberately driving Russian-Turkish relations into a deadlock, and we regret that."
But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was in no mood to apologize, and warned that Ankara would act in the same way in the event of another intrusion.
Pope: 'Catastrophic' if climate talks derailed
- Pope Francis warned yesterday that it would be "catastrophic" for world leaders to let special interest groups get in the way of a global agreement to curb fossil fuel emissions as he brought his environmental message to the heart of Africa on the eve of crucial climate change talks in Paris.
Francis issued the pointed warning in a speech to the U.N.'s regional office here after celebrating his first public Mass on the continent. The joyous, rain-soaked ceremony before 300,000 faithful saw the Argentine pope being serenaded by ululating Swahili singers, swaying nuns, Maasai tribesmen and dancing children dressed in the colors of Kenya's flag.
Francis has made ecological concerns a hallmark of his nearly 3-year-old papacy, issuing a landmark encyclical earlier this year that paired the need to care for the environment with the need to care for humanity's most vulnerable. Francis argues the two are interconnected since the poor often suffer the most from the effects of global warming, and are largely excluded from today's fossil-fuel based global economy that is heating up the planet.
Yesterday, Francis repeated that message but took particular aim at those who reject the science behind global warming. In the United States, that includes some Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers, who have opposed steps President Barack Obama has taken on his own to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
"It would be sad, and dare I say even catastrophic, were special interests to prevail over the common good and lead to manipulating information in order to protect their own plans and interests," Francis said.
South Koreans mourn ex-President Kiml
SEOUL, South Korea
- Thousands of mourners gathered yesterday at the lawn outside South Korea's parliament to bid farewell to former President Kim Young-sam, whose landmark 1992 election victory ended decades of military rule and ushered in a series of reforms.
Kim, a towering figure in South Korea who fought against a succession of dictatorships from the 1960s through the '80s, died of a severe blood infection and acute heart failure on Sunday at age 87.
The televised funeral was held on the National Assembly lawn, where Kim was sworn in as president in early 1993 for a single five-year term. He was buried at the state cemetery in Seoul late yesterday.
Mourners, dressed in black and braving cold wind and flurries of snow, sat in silence below a flag at half-staff.