Macron says fighting 'Islamist terrorism' is France's top foreign policy priority

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses French ambassadors during the annual gathering of French diplomatic corps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on Aug 29, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Fighting "Islamist terrorism" is France's top foreign policy priority, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday (Aug 29), vowing to make his country a leading power in an unstable, increasingly polarised world.

"Providing security for our citizens means that the fight against Islamist terrorism is our first priority," Mr Macron told some 200 French diplomats gathered in Paris.

"There's no place for naivete, nor for fear of Islam that confuses Islamism and Islamic," he said, adding that assuring 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.

Mr 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 to eradicate the terror threat.

"Some have chosen (their camp). It's a mistake. The strength of our diplomacy is to speak to all sides," he said.

France will host a conference on cutting off sources of funding for terror groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in early 2018, he added.

The 39-year-old leader also insisted there was no alternative to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which has been fiercely opposed by US President Donald Trump.

"There is no alternative to the non-proliferation agenda. It enables a constructive and demanding relationship with Iran," he said.

Faced with dismal approval ratings less than four months into his term, Mr 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, hosting both Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin within his first weeks in office.

He raised human rights with Mr 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.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron announced that Paris will host a summit to review progress on the 2015 accord on Dec 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".

Warsaw has rejected tough proposals to overhaul a controversial EU rule on cheap labour.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron singled out Venezuela for particular criticism, accusing President Nicolas Maduro of creating a "dictatorship" that was battling to survive in the face of deadly street protests.

"A dictatorship is trying to survive at an unprecedented humanitarian cost, even though the resources of the country remain significant," he said, echoing the tough US position on Venezuela.

Last week, the White House piled financial pressure on Caracas, restricting access to vital US capital markets and pledging to "deny the Maduro dictatorship a critical source of financing to maintain its illegitimate rule".

Tuesday's speech came a day after Mr Macron hosted a mini-summit with African and European leaders on the migrant crisis.

The leaders backed proposals to screen asylum-seekers in Chad and Niger as a way to prevent thousands from taking perilous journeys across the Mediterranean.

Mr Macron said on Tuesday 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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