Russian jet incident underscores need for U.S. leadership, former official says

U.S. is 'only realistic leader' in Syria ISIS fight
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U.S. is 'only realistic leader' in Syria ISIS fight 01:40

(CNN)The Turkish downing of a Russian jet near the border with Syria on Tuesday underscores the need for increased American leadership in the Syrian war, according to Nicholas Burns, a U.S. career diplomat who served as under secretary of state and ambassador to NATO.

"I think the only realistic leader at this point is the United States -- a leader that would come in and try to deconflict the military operation, say between Turkey and Russia, between Russia and the United States, but also unify from a political and military point of view a united front of countries against the Islamic State," Burns told CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
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Watch the full interview 10:17
"You don't see President Obama grasping for that role; you see him laying back a bit."
Speaking at a news conference with French President Francois Hollande in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama defended the right of Turkey, a NATO member country, to defend itself.
    The incident will no doubt stymie, or slow, the efforts of those who sought to build a grand anti-ISIS coalition, to include both Russia and Turkey.
    Nonetheless, Hollande said that he wished to "gather all countries" to carry out the fight.
    The French President, Burns said, may have in mind a bigger role for the United States than Obama cares to take on.
    "You do need a more effective center to this coalition. I think it has to be our country."
    Burns said that the incident also gave renewed weight to those who argue for a no-fly zone over northern Syria, something Turkey has advocated.
    "A no-flight zone would help to defend the Turkish border," he said. "It would also help civilians under attack by the Syrian government. It would stem the flow of refugees out of Syria."
    Several former members of Obama's Cabinet, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have backed the idea.
    "The Russian instinct will be to oppose this," Burns said. "But after this morning's incident, better to deconflict and better to try to construct an international policy that actually helps the people on the ground who are suffering -- the Syrian people."