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Obama, Hollande Vow To Expand Attacks Against ISIS

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The man believed to have organized the Paris attacks was planning to carry out another one. That's what French official said today, and we'll hear more about that in a few minutes. First, we'll go to the White House where French president Francois Hollande stood with President Obama this morning. The two promised to destroy the terrorist group responsible for the Paris attacks. President Hollande is also trying to get Russia's help with that. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: French flags were on display in the White House East Room today just as they have been around the country since the November 13 attacks. President Obama says American hearts were broken too that night. The stadium, restaurants and concert hall targeted by the gunmen could have been our own.

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BARACK OBAMA: Targeting venues where people come together from around the world, killing citizens of nearly 20 countries, including America - this was an attack on the very idea that people of different races and religions and backgrounds can live together in peace.

HORSLEY: Obama's meeting with Hollande was partly a show of solidarity for the French president, but it was also a strategy session as the two men looked for ways to increase military pressure in Iraq and Syria on the group known as ISIS or DAESH. Hollande, like Obama, has ruled out a large-scale deployment of his country's ground troops. But with a French aircraft carrier now positioned off the Syria coast, Hollande says more ISIS targets are in the crosshairs.

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FRANCOIS HOLLANDE: (Through interpreter) The command centers, the trucks carrying oil, the training centers where they prepare terror attacks - we will continue, and we will intensify our strikes at the heart of the cities which are currently in the hands of DAESH.

HORSLEY: Hollande is encouraging other European leaders to do their part. And on Thursday, he'll be meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin. Obama acknowledged that Russia could play a constructive role in Syria, but he didn't sound optimistic.

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OBAMA: We've got a coalition.

HORSLEY: Obama says dozens of countries are already working with the U.S. to defeat ISIS.

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OBAMA: Russia, right now, is a coalition of two.

HORSLEY: Russia and Iran are the sole backers of Syria's embattled president, Bashar al-Assad. For years, Obama's been insisting Assad must step down if there's to be a political resolution to Syria's long and bloody civil war.

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OBAMA: The existing structure cannot gain the legitimacy to stop the war. And until you stop the war, you're going to have a vacuum in which these kinds of terrorist organizations can operate more effectively.

HORSLEY: While many countries are opposed to ISIS, they're often divided by other conflicting interests. The challenge of forging an effective anti-ISIS coalition was underscored today when Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet. Obama and Hollande both said they hope to prevent an escalation of that conflict.

Obama also spoke directly to the American people today, and he tried to strike a tone that often eluded him during his recent Asia trip when his remarks were criticized as bloodless and thin-skinned. Obama said he understands people are worried about the prospects of a Paris-style attack in this country. But he urged Americans not to be frightened from going shopping, or to ballgames and not to turn their backs on refugees from Syria.

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OBAMA: Even as we're vigilant, we cannot and we will not succumb to fear. Nor can we allow fear to divide us, for that's how terrorists win.

HORSLEY: Obama and Hollande both mentioned the upcoming climate summit in Paris which will go on next week despite the attacks. What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists, Obama said, when the world stands as one and shows we won't be deterred from building a better future for our children. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.