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France's Macron seen as UN ally

© AFP / by Carole LANDRY | French president-elect Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris on May 7, 2017, after the second round of the French presidential election

UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) - 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Monday quickly reached out to French President-elect Emmanuel Macron to schedule an early meeting and get to work on addressing climate change and a range of international issues.

Macron's election was welcome news at the United Nations as it battles to ward off plans from US President Donald Trump to cut funding to the world organization.

Guterres will write a letter to Macron to congratulate him and propose a meeting "in the very near future," said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, adding: "We look forward to rapid engagement."

Stressing that France is "a highly-valued partner of this organization", the UN spokesman said climate change, the fight against terrorism and peacekeeping were among the issues that would be discussed during a first meeting.

Macron, who defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen in a runoff on Sunday, promised during the campaign to defend the Paris climate deal on combating global warming.

His firm support for the accord signed by 175 countries at the United Nations last year stands in contrast with Trump, who has threatened to pull out of the deal.

The US administration is expected to decide in the coming weeks on whether it will withdraw.

In a swipe at the United States, Macron released a video message inviting American climate scientists to move to France. "We like innovation, we want innovative people," he said in the message.

- Step into the void? -

France is also a leading voice on UN peacekeeping, which has come under heavy US pressure to draw down and close its missions, many of which are in Africa.

As the biggest contributor to the peacekeeping budget, the United States has made clear it wants to reduce its share and has begun a mission-by-mission review to assess whether some peace operations are no longer needed.

A former Socialist prime minister of Portugal, Guterres won backing early on from French President Francois Hollande in the race to be UN chief.

The top UN diplomat has worked closely with France since he took over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1.

"France now has an opportunity to both provide a real source of support to Guterres and possibly to step into a leadership role with Germany, Canada, Britain and a few others," said Bathsheba Crocker, a former US assistant secretary of state for international organizations affairs.

With the United States weighing a retreat from UN diplomacy, Crocker said France could "step into the void left by the US on a range of issues in Africa and take a primary role."

No timetable was given for a possible meeting with Macron, who will take the oath of office on Sunday.

Last month, Trump held a brief first meeting with Guterres at the White House, but there was no joint press conference or public handshake between the two men.

by Carole LANDRY

© 2017 AFP