NEW YORK (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday his nation would not launch air strikes against Islamic State (IS) militants based in Syria despite having bombed a suspected target of the group in northern Iraq last week.
Islamic State is a hard-line Sunni Islamist group that has seized a third of Iraq and large swaths of territory across Syria. It has been blamed for a wave of sectarian violence, beheadings and massacres of civilians.
France is the first nation to join the United States in launching military action against IS, which has forced Kurdish refugees to flee over the border into Turkey.
Asked why France would send jets to bomb a target near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and not do the same against IS in Syria, Fabius said his government acted at the behest of Baghdad to provide air protection.
“We have decided to say yes according to the Article 51 of the UN charter and President Hollande ordered air strike, which has taken place a few days ago,” Fabius said, answering questions at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Fabius reiterated France’s position that it will continue to support the moderate opposition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but that “the French president has said we do not have intention to do the same in Syria, I mean by air.”
“I think it is possible to act. Therefore the question is not a question of legality, international legality. But, first, France cannot do everything. And second, we consider that to support the moderate opposition and to fight both Bashar and Daech (Islamic State) is a necessity,” Fabius said.
A week ago, Paris played host to an international conference attended by five U.N. Security Council permanent members, European and Arab states, as well as representatives of the EU, Arab League and United Nations. France began reconnaissance flights over Iraq on Sept. 15.
Fabius said that Iran, which is currently negotiating with western powers over its nuclear ambitions, could play a more general role against IS rather than formally joining a growing coalition.
“Because of their geographical position and what they say, and attitude towards Daech, they can do something. Not in the coalition, in the narrow sense of this word, but more generally speaking,” Fabius said.
Shi’ite Muslim-dominated Iran is a key ally of the governments in Iraq and Syria.
Iran and the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China resume talks in New York this week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in a bid to secure a long-term deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
“More generally speaking, you must not establish confusion between this (Daech) question and the question of nuclear weapons, which we are now discussing with the Iranians,” Fabius said.
“The Iranians did not ask us to mix the two, but we said these are different questions,” he said.
Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Peter Galloway