- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he spoke with the French defense minister Thursday about the possibility of France participating in airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria, something the French have so far declined to do.

Appearing at a Pentagon news conference alongside the French official, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Hagel said France recognized the grave threat that the Islamic State group posed to the country and to the region.

French President Francois Hollande’s office said Thursday that France - which is conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State militants in Iraq - would “intensify” its support for Syrian opposition forces. But no details were provided.

Asked repeatedly by reporters whether the airstrikes would be expanded to Syria, Le Drian would only say that France launched strikes in Iraq because the government there requested help. He also said the fight against the Islamic State was in the beginning stages.

Le Drian also declined to answer whether the French provided any intelligence support to the U.S. for airstrikes within Syria against the Khorasan Group, an al-Qaida cell said to be plotting attacks on the West.

“We have an excellent cooperation in this field of intelligence, and this good cooperation means also that we don’t give third parties, even great journalists, any details about intelligence,” he said through an interpreter.

During their private meeting, Hagel and Le Drian spoke briefly and generally about the possibility of French participation in the Syria fight, but the U.S. did not explicitly ask France to conduct airstrikes, according to a U.S. official who attended the meeting.

The official said no commitments were made during the meeting, but that the French also did not rule out conducting airstrikes in Syria.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.

Asked about the effectiveness of the broad military campaign against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Hagel said the airstrikes have been effective, but this “is going to be difficult and it’s going to be long. And there were no misconceptions when we started this that there would be any quick finish.”

In other comments, Hagel said he welcomed the decision by Turkey to launch military incursions into Syria and Iraq and allow foreign forces to use its territory for possible operations against the Islamic State group.

“We will continue to consult with the Turkish government on the specifics of how the implementation of that authority would be carried out,” said Hagel, who was in Turkey last month meeting with leaders about the ongoing military operations in Syria and Iraq.

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