|   September 6, 2014   10:46 AM ET

Barack Obama made a family' s day when he swapped "banter" with three young boys during his sightseeing trip to Stonehenge, their mother has said.

Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK, rushed to the famous monument with her husband and sons after hearing that the leader of the free world was paying a surprise visit.

The family, who live nearby, shook hands with the US president and chatted to him over a barbed wire fence as he toured the ancient site in Wiltshire yesterday.

"I squealed like a teenager. You’d think I would know better," Mrs Raffle told ITV.

A delighted Mrs Raffle shared the moment the family tracked down the President on Twitter.

Mr Obama had taken advantage of his attendance at the Nato summit in Wales to visit the historic site.

Mrs Raffle told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "He was really sweet, he asked all our names, whether we lived in the area, which we've only just moved to two weeks ago.

"He commented on the fresh air and the beautiful countryside and also said that I was quite outnumbered because I have three little boys as well as my husband."

stonehenge

President Barack Obama greets the family

She also told the BBC: "There was a bit of banter between the boys, saying boys are best and he said 'Well, I don't know if I agree with that'. He was really kind, it was a really amazing experience for all of us."

Her husband, James Raffle, said the chance encounter had been "incredible".

He told ITV News: "He was worried about the kids on the barbed wire fence. He was worried about Janice because she was overrun with boys."

Seeing Stonehenge had been on the president's "bucket list" of things to do and he stunned onlookers when he squeezed in the visit after the final day of the Nato summit in south Wales.

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  |   September 6, 2014    8:14 AM ET

The UK has pledged to stand beside America in global efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, in a struggle that could last up to three years.

Nato has launched a a "core coalition" of 10 countries – led by the United States and including the UK, France, Germany, Canada and Australia – to tackle jihadists, amid speculation that Britain could soon join airstrikes.

The alliance's summit in Wales wrapped up with Cameron urging a "comprehensive plan" to deal with the growing threat, while refusing to rule out military intervention to defend our “national interest”.

cameron isis

But there were some signs of tensions, with UK officials concerned that the US is not putting enough emphasis on involving regional powers, and the French indicating they are not prepared to take part in military action in Syria.

IS militants have threatened to kill Scottish aid worker David Haines who they are believed to be holding in Syria. They have already beheaded two American journalists, posting the evidence on line in gruesome videos featuring a masked jihadist with a British accent.

US president Barack Obama insisted Nato members were "unanimous" in their commitment to stamp out to the "extremist nihilism" of IS - also known as ISIL and ISIS.

"We are going to achieve our goal. We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaida," he told a press conference.

At his own press conference, Cameron said: "My argument is you need that mixture of intelligent politics, diplomatic pressure, long-term engagement in a comprehensive plan as well as the potential for military or other more aggressive action.

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Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference at the end of the NATO Summit at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales

"This will take time and it will take resolve. We will proceed carefully and methodically, drawing together the partners we need, above all in the region, to implement a comprehensive plan."

Despite evidence that Tory MPs are being canvassed over whether they would support involvement in airstrikes, Cameron said Britain was not yet at the stage where it was ready to take offensive military action.

He is thought to want to wait at least until a more inclusive Iraqi government is formed - which could happen next week.

Earlier, US secretary of state John Kerry appeared to try to up the tempo, calling for agreement on an international plan for dealing with IS by the time of the general meeting United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month.

Kerry and Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond jointly chaired a meeting of foreign and defence ministers from what the US called a "core coalition" of allies to discuss the way forward to eradicate the “genocidal, territorial-grabbing, caliphate-desiring” fighters.

Ministers from France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark were also at the talks.

"We have the technology, we have the know-how. What we need is obviously the willpower to make sure that we are steady and stay at this," Kerry said.

“We’re convinced in the days ahead we have the ability to destroy Isil. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years. But we’re determined.”

There was some irritation among British officials at the apparent attempt to put a group of predominantly North American and European nations at the forefront of the effort at a time when they are seeking to build support from allies in the region.

Earlier Hammond said the Government will not be deterred from launching air strikes against IS by threats to the life of a British hostage they are holding.

"We will do everything we can to protect this individual (Mr Haines) but we have to be clear about the nature of the organisation that we are dealing with," Hammond told BBC News.

"They are utterly brutal, they are ideologically driven - almost pathological in the way that they behave. We cannot allow our strategy to be driven by their behaviour.

"We have to approach the challenge of Isil with focus purely on what is in Britain's best interests - protecting our citizens and our security from the threat that Isil poses from foreign fighters, from potential attacks on our soil, destabilisation of the region.

"We will not be diverted from doing what is right by the threats from this organisation."

Haines, 44, has a teenage daughter in Scotland from a previous marriage and a four-year-old daughter in Croatia from his present marriage.

Educated at Perth Academy secondary school, he has worked for aid agencies in some of the world's worst trouble spots, including Libya and South Sudan.

He was in Libya during its civil war in 2011, working as head of mission for Handicap International, which helps disabled people in poverty and conflict zones around the world.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph at the family's home near Zagreb, his wife Dragana Prodanovic Haines, 44, said: "He's everything to us. He's our life. He's a fantastic man and father.

"Nobody can understand how we are feeling. My daughter keeps asking about him every day. She hasn't seen her father for a year and a half. She has gone through so much. She sees me crying all the time."

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Paul Vale   |   September 5, 2014    8:14 PM ET

Having concluded the Nato summit in Wales, President Obama visited the historical site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire on Friday, touring the prehistoric monument with English Heritage curator Heather Sebire.

Addressing reporters, Obama quipped, "How cool is this?... Knocked it off the bucket list." Having run against John McCain in 2008, this is not the first time Obama has encountered an ancient, rigid Neolithic structure. Still, the President was clearly impressed, telling Sebire, "It's spectacular, it's spectacular. It's a special place."

obama

The ancient stones could even predate GOP attitudes towards women

After the visit the curator said: "Mr Obama was fascinated by the story of the stones, what we know about them and the mysteries that have yet to be solved. He asked lots of questions about how old the monument is, how long it took to build it, and what was its purpose.

"He described the atmosphere around the stones as ‘really special’ and his visit to Stonehenge as ‘a highlight of my tour’. He particularly loved seeing the colour and texture of the stones. It was a beautiful still evening and it was a privilege to show the US President around this unique monument which continues to inspire and intrigue people."

The visit also resulted in what is being hailed as the greatest piece of live-tweeting in the long history of Wiltshire. The poster was Janice Raffle, a mum of three who runs 10K races dressed as a bee to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

Upon hearing rumours that the US Commander-in-Chief was in the neighbourhood, the family hiked up to the site hoping to get a glance of the President... only for Obama to wave, walk over, shake hands and have the mandatory picture taken. "I squealed like a teenager. You’d think I would know better," Raffle told ITV.

As one respondent to the final post succinctly put it, "Noway!!!! Lol. OMG".

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  |   September 5, 2014    7:00 PM ET

Britain is to a head up a new rapid-reaction Nato "spearhead" force designed to deter Russian further aggression against former Soviet bloc states in eastern Europe, David Cameron has said. On the final day of the alliance summit in South Wales, the Prime Minister said the UK would be the first member state to take charge of the 4,000-strong force when it becomes operational at the end of next year.

The UK will provide the largest contingent with a 1,000-strong battle group and headquarters for the force which will be on standby to deploy troops within two to five days in the event of a new crisis.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that the European Union would press ahead with a new round of sanctions against Russia, despite the agreement of a ceasefire with pro-Moscow rebels announced by Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko.

Mr Cameron welcomed the truce, but said that Western sanctions would only be removed if "proper milestones" towards a lasting peace were reached. The Prime Minister hailed a "hard-fought" agreement by all 28 Nato members to reverse the trend of cuts in defence spending and move towards meeting the alliance's target of spending 2% of GDP on defence over the coming decade - with a fifth of spending to go on major new equipment.

He sought to underline Britain's own commitment to alliance collective defence with an announcement that the Royal Navy's second new aircraft carrier - the Prince of Wales, due to be completed in 2017 - will enter service rather than be mothballed or sold off, enabling the UK to have a carrier available at all times. The Newport summit has been dominated by concerns over Russian aggression in the east of Ukraine, as well as the violent uprising by Islamic State jihadis in Iraq and Syria.

The creation of a spearhead force able to deploy thousands of troops in a matter of days is intended to provide reassure to allies in eastern Europe such as members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who fear they could be the next targets of Soviet aggression. Troops will be provided by member states on a rotation basis. It will have a headquarters in Poland and will be supported by the "pre-positioning" of supplies of fuel and ammunition in bases in eastern Europe.

Mr Cameron said that Britain would also be deploying 3,500 military personnel on a series of Nato exercises running to the end of 2015 intended to ensure a persistent alliance presence in the region while providing further financial assistance to the government in Kiev.

"We will continue our efforts to support Ukraine, including by providing financial assistance to improve their command, control and communication capabilities," said the Prime Minister. Nato members across Europe - particularly in central and eastern Europe - have been reassured that this is an alliance that will meet its treaty obligations to come to the defence of any member under threat.

"No one will leave here with any doubt that our collective security is as strong as it has ever been. The alliance is firmly committed to providing ongoing reassurance to our eastern allies."

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Prime Minister David Cameron holds a news conference at the end of the NATO Summit at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales

US president Barack Obama said the agreement demonstrated that Nato was "fully united" behind Ukraine's independence, territorial sovereignty and right to self-defence. "This commitment makes clear that Nato will not be complacent," he said.

Mr Poroshenko, who attended the summit as a Nato partner, said the new ceasefire was based on a 12-point plan drawn up on the basis of his phone conversation earlier this week with Russian president Vladimir Putin. All hostages held by rebel groups are expected to be freed by tomorrow.

"Now it is very important that this ceasefire lasts long and during this ceasefire we continue the political dialogue to bring peace and stability," said the Ukrainian president. Nevertheless, Mr Cameron said that sanctions against Russia agreed by the European Union last weekend and due to be detailed later today will go ahead.

"The announcement about the ceasefire is good news," he said. "We need to look carefully at whether it is a ceasefire or whether it also includes a commitment, as I understand it might, to make real progress on a proper peace plan. We should be clear that the sanctions which we agreed last Saturday in Brussels will go ahead. But, of course, if a ceasefire and a proper peace plan are put in place, then it'll be right to look and see how those sanctions could potentially be removed if proper milestones are reached."

Mr Cameron denied the West was accepting a de facto partition of Ukraine or that Moscow was set to "get away" with its aggression. The summit had sent a clear message to Russia that President Vladimir Putin's actions in Ukraine were "indefensible and wrong".

"We stand firmly behind Ukraine's right to make its own decisions, not to have them dictated by Russian tanks rolling over the border," he said. Sanctions have proved effective and Moscow could see that the EU and US were acting together and there would be "more pressure" if aggression continued, said Mr Cameron, adding: "I am confident that we are taking the right approach."

Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said progress towards meeting the 2% pledge would be reviewed at every future summit of the trans-Atlantic alliance. "This is no easy task, and there is much work to do," he said.

"But the direction of travel is clear and the security of our countries of citizens is too important for us to cut corners or to cut still more funds." He said the creation of the spearhead force "sends a clear message to any potential aggressor: should you even think of attacking an ally, you will be facing the whole alliance".

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A World Without a Globo-Cop

Robin Lustig   |   September 5, 2014    3:54 PM ET

I can't think of anywhere that would have been less appropriate as a venue for this week's Nato summit than the UK.

A United Kingdom that within the next couple of weeks may become shatteringly disunited. A once middle-ranking European power that now has no idea what sort of international role it wants for itself, or indeed whether it even wants to be part of a European Union. A nation that sometimes seems to have decided to have no further truck with any joint international endeavours.

Inward-looking, backward-looking, suspicious of its neighbours: everything that Nato is meant not to be. And this at a time when the world is a more dangerous place than it's been in decades. So why are Western leaders - because it's not just David Cameron - so dismally unable to confront the dangers?

The answer is both simple and complex. Simple, because the world's traditional globo-cop - the US - no longer has either the will or the cash to carry on as before. Its ill-fated military ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have sapped the Americans' appetite for more wars, and its economic plight means it can no longer afford to fight other people's wars for them.

Good thing too, you may say, when you look at the consequences of the US's most recent forays. But here comes the complex bit: in the absence of a globo-cop, bad people get more chances to do bad things. (Globo-cops can do bad things too, of course: Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, you can draw up your own list ...) Who should stop the bad people -- and how -- is now the single biggest foreign policy headache facing world leaders.

Nato? Ah yes, good old Nato. The US by another name. As Gideon Rachman pointed out in the Financial Times this week, the US now provides no less than 75% of Nato's total spending, compared to 50% at the height of the Cold War. It may still be the world's biggest economy (just), but it's heartily fed up with European leaders whining about a lack of "American leadership" and then scurrying for cover as soon as someone suggests they might like to cough up some cash themselves.

I remember a senior Nato official telling me some years ago that for effective international action to be agreed, you always need one political leader to go out in front, pick up the phone and do some serious arm-twisting. Tony Blair was pretty good at it (Kosovo, 1999); so were George H.W. Bush (Kuwait, 1991) and Nicolas Sarkozy (Libya, 2011). This time, when it comes to Ukraine, Syria, or Iraq? Er, no one.

As it happens, there are some very good reasons for the reluctance to go back to war. First, recent experience is not encouraging. Second, it's extremely difficult to see what kind of action, at least in Syria or Ukraine, would be effective. Third, there's the very real possibility that military intervention would make things worse rather than better.

There is, however, one Nato member that might be in a position to take up where the US has left off, and that member is Germany. It is the most powerful economy in Europe, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is by a long way Europe's most powerful leader. Germany is also, according to a global opinion poll conducted last year, the most admired country in the world.

There's just one problem: history. The Germans themselves, and the rest of Europe, remember what happened in the past when Germany had ambitions to be a global power, and it did not end well. So whether it's the global economic crisis or Russian troops stomping around in eastern Ukraine, Chancellor Merkel has no intention of dressing up in a globo-cop uniform. I can't say I blame her.

But with the Polish prime minister Donald Tusk now in pole position in Brussels (sorry) as the new president of the European Council, Mrs Merkel really is best placed, together with Mr Tusk, to mediate between Moscow and Kiev. (Britain has no useful role to play, if only because of its unedifying determination not to upset all those Russian oligarchs who like to use the London property market as their playground.)

Let's be clear: even if the latest ceasefire is effective, the Ukraine crisis won't be over until there's a sustainable political settlement. No outside power is going to go to war on Kiev's behalf - that's why at the Nato summit in Bucharest in 2008 (I was there), Western leaders rebuffed Ukraine's attempt to begin a membership application process.

As for Iraq, it seems to me that President ("no strategy yet") Obama is heading slowly in the right direction. Just as the first President Bush did in 1991, he wants to assemble a multi-national coalition that extends beyond the Western powers. That means bringing countries like Turkey on board, plus Jordan and at least some of the Gulf Sunni autocracies. (If they really don't approve of the IS jihadis, now is the time for them to show it. And to do something useful with all that military hardware we keep selling them.)

Most important of all is to engage with Iraq's Sunni leaders to help them confront the brutality of the IS zealots. Because if there is to be any hope for Iraq -- or Syria, or Ukraine -- the shape of the future must be decided by its own people.

Finally, spare a thought for the people of Bama, in northern Nigeria, 26,000 of whom are reported to have fled from their homes after the town was seized by jihadi fighters from Boko Haram, IS's African soul-mates. Bodies are said to be littering the streets.

And if you can, spare another thought for the people of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, facing the worst outbreak of the Ebola virus in history. According to the president of the international medical relief agency Médecins sans Frontières: "The world is losing the battle to contain it ... cases and deaths continue to surge. Riots are breaking out. Isolation centres are overwhelmed. Health workers on the frontline are becoming infected and are dying in shocking numbers."

If it wasn't for everything else, Nigeria and Ebola would be on the front pages as well.

  |   September 5, 2014   10:23 AM ET

So heartbreaking, in fact, that the uploader of the video above has added Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Sound Of Silence' for extra pathos.

Oh dear. Maybe it just happened because he's left-handed? Still, that could be Obama's excuse, too...

(Via LiveLeak)

ISIL: Where Do We Go From Here?

Emily Stacey   |   September 5, 2014    8:33 AM ET

"We don't have a strategy yet," President Obama said last week at a monumental press conference on the worrying rise of ISIL. At a time when the world appears to be descending into chaos, with terror eclipsing the Middle East, we turn to our leaders for reassurance, competence and direction. Yet the message sent out from Mr Obama and David Cameron of late has been anything but decisive. Currently in Cardiff holding one of the most important NATO summits in a generation, the West and their allies have the opportunity to form a response to the very real threat of the so-called Islamic State, an opportunity they have to take for the sake of their people at home and those suffering under the hands of terror abroad.

Following the summer recess, David Cameron came to the Commons this week with little more reassurance than Mr Obama has offered the US. The official line coming from Downing Street is that on dealing with the rising terror taking over Iraq and Syria by Jihadist fighters, the best way Britain can help is by continuing to support refugees with humanitarian aid, whilst assisting the Kurds in the hope that a stable Government can be formed in Iraq. The international situation we face from ISIL is "not unlike the Cold War," commented the Prime Minister, in the sense that as well as punishing IS militants, the West also needs to deter any subjects who are giving succor to the regime, having been inspired by ISIL's extensive propaganda.

However, speaking yesterday and commenting that Britain can do more to help Iraq, Mr Cameron has given his biggest hint yet that the UK may well follow America in using air strikes to attack IS fighters. The BBC confirmed yesterday that Conservative Whips are currently doing the rounds asking the Party's MPs how they would vote on military action if it came to it. Former Defense Secretary Liam Fox has made it clear to all broadcast news channels that he believes now is the time to go in. Labour have not ruled out their support for such action, providing it is legal and since the devastating beheadings of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, with Jihadists threatening to take the life of a British citizen next, it seems that we are moving ever closer to intervention.

A decision on military action cannot take place though until Mr Obama decides what his strategy is, and then there would have to be an official request from the Iraqi Government before British jets went in. It appears almost certain that this request will come, but significantly, the West are largely prevented from striking Syria, where many of the IS bases are in operation, without an alliance with President Assad. Such cooperation has been condemned by London and Washington, and so any action may not get the chance to attack the core of IS's operation.

In order to fight ISIL on the scale that is required, a coalition is needed between the West and their allies, a task that one would hope is being drafted behind the scenes at the NATO summit as we speak. As the world witnesses the biggest terror struggle in a generation, a strategy is needed and fast. Mr Cameron and Mr Obama can no longer hide behind the rhetoric of political talk, they need to offer the world words in order to demonstrate the leadership that is so desperately needed.

  |   September 4, 2014   12:53 PM ET

A primary school in Newport was overtaken by world leaders on Thursday, as delegates arrived in Wales for the Nato summit.

Before leaders gather to discuss Afghanistan later today, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron pulled up a couple of child-sized chairs at Mount Pleasant Primary School in Rogerstone.

While a ring of steel has been erected in Cardiff city centre, the small primary school was swamped by a 22-car convoy carrying the two leaders, the BBC reported.

The road along Ruskin Avenue, usually busy with parents dropping their youngsters off, looked more like a scene from an action film as scores of police officers and White House security officials stood guard while a helicopter hovered overhead.

Children then had to go through a metal detector before the flashing blue lights of the US president's motorcade pulled up at the school gates - his black stretch limousine bearing a Welsh flag for the first time in history.

Obama greeted the youngsters in Welsh saying "bore da" - "good morning" - and then listened to a welcome message, thanking him for being the first serving US president to visit Wales.

The president then posed alongside Cameron for a classic politician's photo shoot in front of smiling, and slightly bemused-looking children.

Deputy headteacher Andrew Rothwell said the day would be one staff and pupils would never forget.

"It's been a real pleasure to host Barack Obama and David Cameron," he said. "As you can see, the children have not stopped smiling. It's given them a tremendous sense of pride.

"We feel incredibly lucky to have been chosen for the visit. It's quite funny how it came about because in July we tweeted a picture to Nato's account with a drawing the children had done of the Nato logo asking for a VIP visit.

"We then later formally applied to host a Nato-themed event at our school, but had no idea as to what it would be.

"I don't know if the tweet helped or not, but when we found out that the visit would involve the US president and the Prime Minister everyone was gobsmacked."

After speaking with schoolchildren for about 40 minutes, the two leaders left in their respective convoys - to more flag-waving and loud cheers.

Some onlookers had brought ladders while others stood on walls or even on the back of bikes to try to get the best view.

Among the 300 people outside the school gates was college student Jay Singh, 16.

He said: "It's pretty surreal, Barack Obama being in Rogerstone. It's great that he's come here and shows Newport has plenty to offer and it's not just about Cardiff."

Local councillor Chris Evans added it had given the area a big boost.

"It has brought the whole community together," he said. "It's especially good after the recent bad news we've had with 600 job cuts at a bakery firm."

And grandparents Chris and Bronwen Green, both 67, were pleased the president would be addressing the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

Mr Green - waving a flag with the Welsh Dragon, Star Spangled banner and the black, white and blue of Estonia, said: "Our son lives out in Tallin in Estonia - which is only a 120 miles away from Russian tanks. It's understandable people there ate getting quite concerned."

Mrs Green added: "We both like Obama. He seems to have his finger on the pulse."

And local resident Sally Pyrah-Barnes, 47, said the day felt like a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience.

"It's good Barack Obama took time out from the summit to acknowledge the local city and the local kids," she said.

Children at the 230-pupil school are among youngsters from across Wales who have written postcards to leaders attending the summit, telling them what they would like to see changed in the world by the time they are adults.

Their messages of hope for the future will be presented to Nato leaders at the summit.

  |   September 4, 2014    8:08 AM ET

A friend of the family of murdered journalist Steven Sotloff has challenged the leader of Islamic State (IS) to a debate about the religion, pledging to "come in peace" while asking "where is your mercy?"

IS released a video this week purporting to show the execution of Sotloff - two weeks after a similar one that showed the killing of fellow journalist James Foley - as the West decides how to respond to the threat posed by the militants who have murdered and plundered their way across northern Iraq.

Speaking in Arabic after reading a tribute from Sotloff's parents, Barak Barfi said: “I have a message to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

“You said Ramadan is a month of mercy but where is your mercy? You speak of Islam and the Holy Koran but I know the Koranic verses.”

steven sotloff

Steven Sotloff

SEE ALSO: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Gives Chilling Warning To Muslims In First Video

He then quoted from the Koran and asked Al-Baghdadi why he had violated its tenets.

“I am ready to debate you. I come in peace, I don’t have a sword in my hand, I am ready for your answer,” he said.

Barfi had read from a statement in which Sotloff's parents that described him as having a "gentle soul" and someone who "tried to find good concealed in a world of darkness".

He read the statement in English, saying Sotloff had been "torn between two worlds" and would have been content playing golf, watching South Park and eating junk food but "the Arab world pulled him."

sotloff barak barfi

Barack Barfi told the IS leader 'I am ready to debate you'

"He was no war junkie. He merely wanted to give voice to those who had none," Barfi said to assembly reporters outside Sotloff's parents' Miami home.

He ended the statement with a comment in Arabic, saying: "Steve died a martyr for the sake of God."

Barfi had worked with the family to secure Sotloff's release since his disappearance in Syria in August last year.

Al-Baghdadi is the elusive leader of IS who has only made one public appearance - a video showing him giving a sermon at a mosque in Mosul, Iraq's second city, which fell to the militants earlier this year.

In the video of Sotloff's murder, IS warned a British hostage - aid worker David Cawthorne Haines - would be next.

STEVEN SOTLOFF:

David Cameron and Barack Obama have meanwhile insisted the the West will not be "cowed" by the "barbaric killers" of IS, as world leaders gather for the NATO summit in Newport.

"We will not waver in our determination... If terrorists think we will weaken in the face of their threats they could not be more wrong," they said in a joint article for The Times (£).

"Countries like Britain and America will not be cowed by barbaric killers. We will be more forthright in the defence of our values, not least because a world of greater freedom is a fundamental part of how we keep our people safe."

Britain must "use everything we have in our armoury" to destroy IS, Cameron said this morning: "I'm certainly not ruling anything out and I will always act in the British national interest," he said.

"What I would say, though, is this - I think it is very important that Western intervention isn't over the heads of those locally trying to fight this organisation and isn't done against the wishes and against the work of regional partners.

"That is sometimes the mistake that has been made in the past.

"The first thing we should do is help those on the ground fighting this organisation.

"Britain has been helping get arms to the Kurds and we are prepared to do more and we are considering actively whether to give them arms ourselves and whether we can do more directly to train Kurdish militia.

"We are already helping there, but we can do more."

But he added that Britain would not pay ransoms for hostages, and took a swipe at Western nations which have done so.

"I am absolutely convinced that the policy of not paying ransoms to terrorists for kidnaps is right," Cameron said.

"I'm in no doubt that when countries have allowed ransoms to be paid, that has ended up in terrorist groups - including this terrorist group - having tens of millions of dollars that they can spend on kidnapping other hostages, in preparing terrorist plots, including against us here in the UK and in buying arms and weapons to wreak havoc."

  |   September 3, 2014    7:28 PM ET

Nato leaders have ramped up the pressure on President Vladimir Putin - with a warning they will fight back against any incursion by Moscow against alliance members on Russia's borders. Ahead of a two-day summit meeting in Wales, US president Barack Obama made clear the alliance stood ready to defend the territorial integrity of "every single one" of its 28 member states.

Meanwhile French president Francois Hollande bowed to months of pressure from fellow allies with the announcement that he was suspending the delivery of the first of two giant Mistral class helicopters destined for the Russian navy. Prime Minister David Cameron said the summit would provide an opportunity for Nato to reaffirm its commitment to collective security as he condemned Russia's "appalling actions" in eastern Ukraine.

"In this dangerous and difficult world, Nato has an absolutely key role in providing our collective security and that's what the next two days are going to be all about," he said. Mr Putin showed signs he was feeling the pressure, issuing a call to the pro-Russian separatists to "stop advancing" while urging the Ukrainian army to withdraw its troops from the region.

However his words are unlikely to satisfy Western leaders who have threatened to tighten the economic sanctions against Russia unless it withdraws its support for the insurgents and ends its attempts to destabilise the government in Kiev. They came after a morning of confusion which saw Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko announce he had agreed a ceasefire only for the rebels to repudiate it while Moscow said that it was not part of the conflict.

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A Foxhound patrol vehicle (left) and a Scout Specialist Vehicle (right) are displayed on the golf course at Celtic Manor in Newport South Wales ahead of the Nato summit

The strongest intervention came from Mr Obama during a symbolic visit to Estonia - one of the three Baltic states bordering the Russia which were once part of the Soviet Union and which fear they could be the next target of Mr Putin's aggression. Unlike Ukraine - which only has a partnership agreement with Nato - Estonia, Latvian and Lithuania are full alliance members and Mr Obama made clear the alliance would honour its obligation to defend them in the event of an attack.

"You lost your independence once before. With Nato, you'll never lose it again," he declared before a packed audience in a concert hall in the Estonian capital, Tallinn. "We will defend our Nato allies - every ally. In this alliance, there are no old members or new members, no senior partners or junior partners - there are just allies, pure and simple. And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single one."

Earlier he announced that he would be sending further air force units to the region in fresh show of US military strength. Nato leaders meeting in Wales are expected to agree to the formation of a new high-readiness "spearhead" force able to deploy "several thousand" troops - backed by naval and air support - within a matter of days in response to a crisis.

The alliance is also planning to establish forward operating bases in eastern Europe where fuel, ammunition and other supplies can by stockpiled ready for use in operations. With Britain and the US two of only four member states to meet the alliance's obligation to spend 2% of GDP on defence, Mr Cameron and Mr Obama will be pressing other leaders to raise their spending on their armed forces.

The US president had some harsh words for European members who had failed to deliver on their commitments in the past. "For I think a certain period of time there was a complacency here in Europe about the demands that were required to make sure that Nato was able to function effectively," he said. "Obviously what's happened in Ukraine is tragic, but I do think it gives us an opportunity to look with fresh eyes and understand what it is that's necessary to make sure that our Nato commitments are met."

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  |   September 3, 2014    9:35 AM ET

Jack Straw has blasted Barack Obama's foreign policy and backed British launching air strikes against the Islamic State (IS), saying we should not be "paralysed" by regret over the Iraq War.

Straw, who was foreign secretary in 2003 when US and British-led forces invaded Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein, said IS's genocidal violence in that country and Syria were a "threat to civilisation" and he said Britain should "probably" consider bombing them.

He also said Obama was "long on analysis" but not good at "being decisive" and said the ongoing Nato summit in Wales offered a chance for "decisive" leadership for the US.

But the comments of one of the key cabinet members responsible for the Iraq War - which many blame for enabling IS's rise in the first place - have been attacked on social media and by Straw's political opponents.

Straw was speaking after IS were confirmed to have executed a second US journalist by beheading - and threatened that a third British hostage would be next.

David Cameron led an emergency meeting of COBRA to decide on next steps this morning.

jack straw

Jack Straw said Britain should "probably" begin bombing IS

While the US has carried out airstrikes to assist the Kurdish fighters battling IS, Britain's military involvement has been limited to humanitarian aid drops for the refugees fleeing the Islamist fanatics.

When asked whether Britain should follow “My instincts would be probably to do so.”

He added: “No one is more aware than I am of the legacy of the 2003 Iraq war. Of course we should learn the lessons of the past, but we should not be paralysed by the past at the same time.

"These barbaric jihadists were doing this kind of atrocity before the Iraq war, and they would do it irrespective of the Iraq war.

"They are a serious threat to civilisation."

STEVEN SOTLOFF MURDER:

On Obama, he said: "Much though I respect him, I think, if you like, he is very long on analysis and not quite as fleet as foot at being decisive, and you need a balance if you are the president of the United States.

“It’s a difficult job being the president of the United States, but I certainly think this Nato summit provides an opportunity for some very clear leadership by the United States.”

Speaking from Tallinn, Obama said: "We will not be intimidated... Our reach is long and justice will be served."

He said the US would fight "the kind of barbaric and empty vision that [ISIS] represents."

Paul Vale   |   September 2, 2014    7:55 PM ET

Fox News waited less than an hour to use the tragic news of the "beheading" of US journalist Steven Sotloff to blame President Obama for the killing.

Watch analyst K.T. McFarland respond to a question about the brutal act with a rant about how Obama has "stuck his head in the sand… and now two Americans have lost their heads".

(H/T Media Matters)

Teaming Up with Assad to Fight ISIS Is a Very Bad Idea

Nehad Ismail   |   September 1, 2014    8:47 AM ET

The beheading of the captured American journalist James Foley has focused attention on the danger posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, not just to those countries, but to the United States. The US is now considering action against ISIS' main bases in Syria, beginning to mobilise a broad coalition of allies behind potential intervention, and moving toward expanded airstrikes in northern Iraq.

Certain influential voices in the West have suggested that the US must seek the support of President Assad defeating ISIS. Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee at the British Parliament, has proposed talking to Iran and working with Assad. A number of journalists and public figures from Lord Dannatt to Sir Christopher Meyer suggest similar alliances. But how to square an alliance with an acknowledged rogue leader who has killed 191000 of his own people and used toxic gases at least eight times since April this year?

Writing in the Daily Telegraph on 25th August, David Blair: " Bashar al-Assad, the chief arsonist of Syria, ...is now being hailed as ideally qualified for the post of fireman. " But, he argues, it is a nonsense that Assad is a bulwark against IS.

The Assad regime committed unspeakable crimes against its own people, colluding with IS for over a year. Ample documented evidence shows that the Assad regime never targeted IS but invariably attacked the Free Syrian Army, the only moderate rebel group in Syria fighting ISIS/ISIL. When ISIL seized oil wells the regime was its first customer, providing funding and support.

Some observers reject the involvement of Assad in the fight against ISIS, but would like to see more Arab and regional involvement. Koert Debeuf, Representative of the European Parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and author of "Inside the Arab Revolution" told Carnegie Europe recently: "Yes, Europe will go to war against the Islamic State --but it should not lead the campaign". Europe, he argues, is already at war, albeit in a limited way. UK and France are supporting the US in stopping the march of ISIS into Kurdistan by launching air attacks and arming the Peshmerga (the Kurdish military), who are fighting the jihadists.

Debeuf calls for a coalition of Arab states to take the lead in this war. Only co-ordinated action by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, and, preferably, Iran, can prevent ISIS's expansion in the region. The role of the EU and the United States should be to ensure that this war conducted by the neighbours is a 'success' .

Henrik Heidenkamp, Research Fellow for the Defense, Industries, and Society Programme at the Royal United Services Institute, disagrees. "Europe certainly could directly engage ISIS with military means; whether it will depends on European leaders' resolve."
US Secretary of State Kerry is blunt: "Assad is the single biggest magnet for terrorists there is. He is a one-man super-magnet for terrorism. Before Assad started killing his own people, these terrorists were not in Syria."
The debate continues, President Obama dithers, but what is certain is that action against ISIS must be taken, and very soon, without Assad.

A year ago, the use of chemical weapons saved Assad's regime, and now that regime is trying to survive on the back of the war against ISIS. Hussein Ibish, a columnist at NOW and The National (UAE), believes "that Assad is smelling another opportunity to survive and rehabilitate the regime".
Last year David Cameron pledged his support to President Obama in confronting the Syrian regime. The pledge was wrecked by Ed Miliband, for narrow political advantage. Had action been taken a year ago, we wouldn't have heard of ISIL/ISIS and its latest incarnation, so-called IS.
Back in 2011, when the uprising started against Assad, unarmed demonstrators were labelled terrorists.

All the indications are that the US is preparing for some kind of military action against the Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria. US military Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey warned last week, it would have to extend itself into Syria.

The most cost effective and ethical strategy for the West is to ignore Assad altogether and provide full military support to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Syria and to arm the Kurds in Northern Iraq. They can do the job themselves with air support from NATO.Assad has mobilised every resource and every possible weapon, including poison gas, for use against the non-Islamist rebels. Day after day, his tanks, artillery and strike aircraft pound the remaining strongholds of the FSA and deliberately avoid direct confrontation with ISIS. As I write, I hear reports of Assad regime using barrel bombs, cluster bombs, scud missiles and toxic gases against the people of Syria, not against ISIS.

The top priority now is the eradication of ISIS/ISIL/IS. Without Syrian help - quite the reverse. The most pressing objective for the campaign should be the removal of ISIS' key ally, the Assad regime.

Ellie Dierking   |   August 27, 2014   10:48 AM ET

Remember the day President Barack Obama accepted his nomination for presidency of the United States? That just so happens to be exactly six years ago today.

Obama stood before the world to deliver only one of the hundreds of speeches he would have to give over the next six years. He promised change to the nation, and to the eighty-four thousand attendees who listened excitedly, whilst waving “Yes We Can” campaign posters and roaring their approval.

The then-future president delivered a speech meant to inspire and unite listeners by explaining what he had in store for the nation. With unemployment at the time just topping six percent, Obama promised to create new industries which would supply five million new jobs by investing “$150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy.” He also promised to cut taxes by 95 percent of all working families, believing that “in an economy like this, the last thing [the government] should do is raise taxes on the middle class.”

He guaranteed changes in education from the recruitment of more teachers with higher salaries, to protect pensions by changing bankruptcy laws, and equal pay. He also guaranteed a new health care plan which would cover those without health care, and lower the premiums of those with health care.

Pledging to put the safety of the nation first, he assured an end to both the devastating war in Iraq, and the long fight against Al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. He also made a passionate promise to “take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants” and give justice to those families affected in the devastating attacks of 9/11.

A full six years have passed since President Obama vowed to keep “the American promise alive.” Regardless of which promises Obama has kept and which he has thrown out the White-House-window, a lot has changed.

In 2010, Obama signed the Affordable Health Care Act, providing coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans beginning in 2014. He also signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009 in order to spur economic growth. He addressed Wall Street by signing the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (2010) and providing greater regulation. He ended the war in Iraq by pulling the last American troops out in December of 2011, and in the same year he finally eliminated Osama Bin Laden.

These developments, although vital, are only some of the adjustments that the U.S. and the world have seen in the past six years. Obama-supporter or not, he has kept his word in that he would provide change. Although both good and bad, the world has seen quite a lot of “change” in the past six years.