WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says it's important to protect Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East as the U.S. and its partners fight the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

Obama and his national security adviser, Susan Rice, met Thursday with Christian leaders from the Middle East. The White House says they discussed the challenges posed to Christians by the rise of extremism in the Middle East.

Obama says the U.S. will work with the Lebanese Armed Forces and other regional partners to fight Islamic State militants and promote stability. Lebanon has a substantial Christian population.

Thousands of Christians have been displaced from their homes in Syria during that country's three-year civil war, while thousands more in Iraq have fled from extremists.