KRÜN, Germany — President Obama emerged from two days of meetings with leaders of six other industrialized nations saying that an American-led effort to combat the Islamic State needed to find ways to accelerate training and the flow of weapons to Iraqi forces.
At a meeting with other world leaders Monday in the German Alps, Obama responded to a question about U.S. strategy by saying that while the coalition had made some gains, it had also suffered setbacks because the terrorist fighters are “nimble and they’re aggressive and they’re opportunistic.”
“We don’t yet have a complete strategy because it requires commitments on the part of the Iraqis as well about how recruitment takes place, how that training takes place,” he said.
The talks among the group, known as the Group of Seven, did produce important commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions ahead of a meeting on climate change scheduled for Paris later this year. Summit participants also focused on how to address the ongoing fighting in Ukraine and the need to maintain tough sanctions designed to punish Russia for its backing of separatist fighters there.
Taken together with sensitive nuclear negotiations with Iran, these issues will help determine much of the president’s foreign policy legacy.
Prodded by the United States and Germany, leaders from the G-7 wealthy economies agreed to heightened action to combat global warming. They pledged to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century worldwide and to press for binding global emissions limits to ensure that world temperatures do not rise more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels.
The language of the agreement, which entailed overcoming resistance by Canada and Japan, marked a victory for both Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who as the summit’s host sought to put climate change at the top of the agenda. The accord represents a significant step forward in efforts to draft a landmark global climate change treaty in Paris, where a major U.N. conference is to be held in December.
Shortly after the summit concluded, Obama met in Germany with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who participated in the summit’s second day. The face-to-face meeting was Obama’s first with the Iraqi leader since Islamic State forces captured Ramadi, the provincial capital of Iraq’s Anbar province. The fall of the city has fueled worries that the Iraqi and American strategy against the radical Islamist group, which is also known as ISIS or ISIL, is failing.
Noting that the group has been displaced in some areas but then has occupied others, such as Ramadi, Obama said: “So, one of the areas where we’re going to have to improve is the speed at which we’re training Iraqi forces. Where we’ve trained Iraqi forces directly and equipped them, and we have a train-and-assist posture, they operate effectively.”
One of the harshest assessments of the Iraqis’ performance came from Obama’s defense secretary, who has questioned the Iraqis’ will to fight for their own country. The blunt appraisal offended many top Iraqi officials, including Abadi, who senior administration officials have described as a steady partner and a vast improvement over his predecessor, Nouri al-Maliki.
Shortly after the news conference ended, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) office released a statement saying Obama “has had nearly 10 months to devise a robust strategy” to counter the Islamic State.
“We aren’t winning the fight against ISIL because we don’t have a winning plan,” it added.
Earlier, in a joint appearance, Obama and Abadi sought to play down differences. Obama described Abadi as “refreshingly honest” and said that the Iraqi prime minister was committed to an “inclusive government” that embraced both Sunnis and Shiites, a step that the White House said is essential for peace.
Abadi put a mostly positive gloss on the fight against Islamic State militants, noting that his forces have won “many rounds” of fighting even as they recently suffered a wrenching defeat in Ramadi.
The White House and Pentagon are reviewing the types of assistance that Iraq is receiving from the United States, administration officials said. Obama said he wanted to speed up training of Iraqi troops and promised to accelerate the supply of weapons to Iraqis willing to fight.
“When a finalized plan is presented by the Pentagon, then I will share it with the American people,” Obama said. “All the countries in the international community are prepared to do more to train the Iraqi security force if they feel like that additional work has been taken advantage of.”
One problem, he said, is that there is more training capacity in Iraq than there are recruits, particularly Sunnis, willing to take advantage of it. “A big part of the answer is our outreach to Sunni tribes,” Obama said. “It has not been happening as fast as it needs to.” Iraqi National Guard legislation that would make it easier to arm the Sunnis has been stalled in Baghdad for months, with little sign of progress.
He said that where Iraqi troops have received training from their American counterparts and support from U.S. air power, there has been progress.
Abadi, meanwhile, said he needed more help from Western governments and their intelligence services to slow the flow of foreign fighters who are bolstering the Islamic State’s ranks. “The problem resides with the foreign fighters who create more of the bloodshed and destruction,” he said. At a summit last week in Paris, Abadi compared the truck bombs that Islamic State fighters used in the battle for Ramadi to mini-nuclear bombs.
Obama agreed with Abadi’s assessment, saying that the international community had “made some progress but not enough” on stopping the flow of the fighters. “We are seeing thousands of foreign fighters flowing into first Syria and then ultimately into Iraq,” Obama said. “A lot of that is preventable.”
To fix it, the United States and its allies will need to do a better job with intelligence sharing and border security.
There’s little indication that Obama is contemplating a significant shift in strategy that would put U.S. troops closer to the front lines. “As long as the international community sustains its effort and Prime Minister Abadi remains committed to an inclusive approach to governing, I am absolutely confident we will succeed,” said Obama, seated beside Abadi.
The key to resolving the conflict was convincing Sunnis, who felt marginalized and under attack by Abadi’s predecessor, that they have a place in the government, he said.
“The political agenda of inclusion remains as important as the military fight that is out there,” Obama said. Although he praised Abadi for reaching out to disaffected Sunnis, the president noted that he had inherited a lot of “mistrust.”
The G-7 leaders addressed a broad range of other topics, from Russia, whose absence at the table was a consequence of Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine, to financial regulation and combating global terror.
For Obama, there was some relatively positive news on Ukraine. White House officials wanted to make sure that the European allies would vote to renew tough sanctions at a European Council meeting later this month.
A larger question is how the United States and its European allies should respond if Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to increase the flow of weaponry and advisers to pro-Moscow separatist troops in eastern Ukraine. Obama said the allies were having discussions at a “technical level” but that it was too early for firm decisions among the allied political leaders. “Our hope is that we don’t have to take additional steps,” Obama said.
He argued that Putin faced a choice over whether he continued to “wreck” his country’s economy and extend Russia’s isolation. This year’s summit marked the second in a row to which Putin and Russia were not invited.
“The costs that the Russian people are facing are severe,” Obama said. He added that he hoped Putin would realize “the greatness of Russia does not depend on violating the territorial integrity and sovereignty of other countries.”
Sanctions on Russia, they agreed, would remain in place, and could be stiffened, as long as Moscow continues its “trans-border support of separatist forces” in Ukraine. They expressed alarm about the deteriorating situation in Libya, with European powers especially worried about the streams of desperate migrants departing the lawless Libyan coast and bound for the beaches of southern Europe. The leaders additionally called on nations in the developing world to do more to address migrant trafficking.
The group backed a plan proffered by Germany, Ghana and Norway for a new global crisis management scheme to quicken reactions during another health emergency like the recent outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. Leading nations, according to the meeting’s communique, would also seek to slash the gender gap in workforce participation in their countries by 25 percent by 2025. Merkel, perhaps the globe’s most influential female leader, also announced that she would host a major global conference on equality and women’s rights in Germany this September.
The most concrete advances of the week for the president came on climate change. The seven nations agreed on the general principle of “decarbonizing” the global economy this century, and they aimed for reductions in carbon emissions by 40 to 70 percent by 2050. Merkel, who before the summit recorded a podcast pressing for global action on climate change, also won consensus for a plan to increase the financing of green projects in developing nations in an attempt to help them reduce their dependence on fossil fuels and otherwise reduce emissions.
“We made a clear commitment here that we want binding regulations,” Merkel told reporters following the summit. “We don’t have them right now, and that needs to be the objective in Paris.”
Jennifer Morgan, global director of the World Resources Institute’s global climate program, said in a phone interview from Germany that the joint statement was “significant,” not just because of its level of ambition but because it sent a powerful signal to major carbon emitters, such as China and India, of what industrialized nations expect to see in any final deal.
“For them, a successful outcome has to include these binding rules on transparency and accountability,” she said.
Jaffe reported from Germany. Eilperin reported from Washington. Anthony Faiola in Berlin contributed to this report.