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Macron Says Fighting 'Islamist Terror' Top Foreign Priority

 

AFP

 

Fighting "Islamist terrorism" is France's top foreign policy priority, President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday, vowing to make his country a leading power in an unstable, increasingly polarized world.
 
"Providing security for our citizens means that the fight against Islamist terrorism is our first priority," Macron told some 200 French diplomats gathered in Paris.
 
"There's no place for naivety, nor for fear of Islam that confuses Islamism and Islamic," he said, adding that guaranteeing the security of the French was the "raison d'etre" of the country's diplomacy.
 
Since early 2015, France has suffered a series of terror attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives, making it the country worst affected in western Europe.
 
Its armed forces are in action as part of the U.S.-led international coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, while French soldiers are also fighting jihadists in west Africa.
 
Macron, who took power in May on a promise to boost France's international standing, said he would work with the various powerbrokers in the Middle East -- including arch-rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia -- to try eradicate the jihadist threat.
 
"Some have chosen (their camp). It's a mistake. The strength of our diplomacy is to speak to all sides," he said in the first major foreign policy speech of his five-year term.
 
- 'No alternative' -
 
The 39-year-old also insisted there was no alternative to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which saw sanctions eased on the Islamic republic in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. 
 
It has been fiercely opposed by U.S. President Donald Trump who has called it a "terrible" deal.
 
"There is no alternative to the non-proliferation agenda. It enables a constructive and demanding relationship with Iran," Macron said, underlining one of many policy disagreements between him and the U.S. leader.
 
Faced with weak approval ratings, Macron was looking to burnish his foreign policy credentials with the speech, which is a fixture on France's political calendar.
 
He won kudos for making a bold start on the international stage, using frank and uncompromising language with both Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin within his first weeks in office.
 
He raised human rights with Putin and spoke out against Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris accord on fighting climate change before later rolling out the red carpet to the Republican leader.
 
Macron announced that Paris will host a summit to review progress on the 2015 accord on December 12.
 
France's youngest-ever president has also irked some European partners, notably Poland, which he accused of "going against European interests in many areas" last week.
 
Warsaw has accused him of being "arrogant" and rejected tough proposals to overhaul a controversial EU rule on cheap labor.
 
- Venezuela 'dictatorship' -
 
On Tuesday, Macron singled out Venezuela for condemnation in far stronger terms than his European allies, accusing President Nicolas Maduro of creating a "dictatorship" in the crisis-hit South American country.
 
"A dictatorship is trying to survive at an unprecedented humanitarian cost," he said, echoing the tough U.S. position on the country.
 
Last week the White House piled financial pressure on Caracas, restricting access to vital U.S. capital markets. 
 
Macron also fleshed out his plans for deepening the integration of the European Union, which he placed at the heart of his successful election campaign at the head of a new centrist political party.
 
"We should imagine a Europe of several formats: going further with those who want to advance, while not being held back by states which want... to progress slower or not as far," he said.
 
His proposals include creating a budget for the 19-member eurozone which will be overseen by a finance minister and new parliament -- a major institutional change.
 
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave tentative backing to the idea of a finance minister and budget on Tuesday in comments ahead of elections in Germany next month.
 
Macron's speech on Tuesday came a day after he hosted a mini-summit with African and European leaders aimed at reducing the flow of migrants and refugees into the European Union.
 
Macron said he would soon travel to Burkina Faso to continue building a new relationship with Africa, "a continent of the future" which "we cannot abandon."
 

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