London, Asharq Al-Awsat—US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron reaffirmed their commitment to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) on Thursday, as a major NATO conference got underway near the Welsh city of Newport.
In a joint op-ed published in London newspaper The Times, the two leaders said the NATO alliance remained relevant in the face of crises in Ukraine and the Middle East, and warned: “Developments in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria, threaten our security at home.”
Obama and Cameron also pledged to support efforts to build a new inclusive government in Iraq and train Iraqi and local forces to confront ISIS. “[We] will not waver in our determination to confront [ISIS],” they said.
On Thursday morning, Cameron also suggested it was still possible the UK would join the US in launching air strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq, despite the fact that the organization is holding a British hostage, 44-year-old aid worker David Haines.
In an interview on Thursday morning, Cameron responded to a question about the UK joining military action by saying: “I certainly don’t rule anything out. We should pursue our national interests.”
To date, British military aircraft based in Cyprus have only conducted airdrops of humanitarian supplies and reconnaissance missions over Iraq, despite growing calls from within Cameron’s own Conservative Party to take a larger role in the Iraq crisis.
He said the UK’s efforts to combat ISIS would be focused on supplying aid to its opponents on the ground in Iraq.
“We face a direct threat from this organization, and we must work with partners to put a fatal squeeze on the organization, but it must start with helping those on the ground that are fighting this organization,” he said.
Cameron also defended the UK’s efforts to get Haines released, but said it would not pay a ransom to secure his release.
“There was an attempt at a hostage rescue some weeks ago that was sadly not successful, but it is right we should not pay ransoms to terrorists in these circumstances,” he said.
“I am convinced that when these ransoms have been paid, and tragically they have been paid in some circumstances, the money goes directly to kidnapping more people, getting arms and weapons and plotting more terrorist outrages in the UK.”
ISIS has been holding Haines hostage for almost two years, after seizing him in northern Syria last March, where he was working for a French aid group.
In recent weeks, ISIS has released videos showing its members killing two American hostages, reporters James Foley and Steven Sotloff, in retaliation for US air strikes.
The British prime minister also ruled out cooperation with the government of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, which is also battling the organization, and hinted he was willing to authorize strikes on Syrian territory without Assad’s approval.
“President Assad is part of the problem, not part of the solution . . . Assad’s brutality gave credence to [ISIS],” he said.
In regards to the legality of launching air attacks on the territory of a sovereign state, Cameron replied: “President Assad has committed war crimes on his own people and is therefore illegitimate. We would not do anything without moral or legal justification.”