FRANCE

Hollande hails France’s engagement in major foreign policy speech

Ian Langsdon, AFP | French President François Hollande delivers his final foreign policy speech to the diplomatic corps in Paris on Jan. 12, 2017.

President François Hollande stressed France’s active engagement on the international stage, particularly in Syria and the rest of the Arab world, in a key foreign policy speech delivered in Paris Thursday.

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In his annual foreign policy speech to the foreign diplomatic corps -- his last before he steps down from the presidency in May -- Hollande highlighted his administration’s interventions in a number of crises.

France is working in favour of the integrity of countries that are victims of crises,” said Hollande, referring to the conflicts in Syria and Libya. “It would be too easy a solution to ethnicise such territories, to get rid of borders. But that would give terrorists the opportunity to exploit the situation,” he noted.

In a sweeping speech that detailed his foreign policy legacy over the past five years, Hollande highlighted France’s engagement in Africa – particularly the Sahel region – as well as in Iraq, Libya and Syria.

But on the Syrian crisis, Hollande expressed remorse over the international community’s failure to intervene soon enough to stem a spiraling conflict. Harking back to the summer of 2013, when the major Western powers did not enforce US President Barack Obama’s “red line” on the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons, Hollande said the international community was still paying the price for that disengagement.

“This tragedy has lasted nearly six years. So it has been a failure, a moral failure, a political failure on the part of the international community,” said Hollande. “I remain convinced that it would have been possible to put an end to this tragedy much earlier. A key date will remain in the history books as a turning point: the summer of 2013 … it had been proved that chemical weapons had been used by the [Syrian] regime. This was the 'red line' which had been set, and the transgression of this red line was not punished as it should have been. France was prepared to intervene at that time … [but] as a result of this international inaction, the worst consequences ensued,” said Hollande, noting the rise of the Islamic State (IS) group, the migrant crisis and the massacre of civilians.

Hollande's full speech to foreign diplomatic corps

Pushing for peace in the Middle East

Hollande also stressed the importance of finding a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and reaffirmed France’s commitment to the two-state solution.

On Sunday, representatives of around 70 countries are set to attend a Middle East peace conference in Paris aimed at exploring ways to jumpstart the long-stalled peace process.

The objective of the conference, said Hollande, was “to reaffirm the international community’s commitment to the two-state solution.”

However Hollande was careful to stress that France supported bilateral talks between the Israelis and Palestinians -- a position Israel has recently adopted.

“I am very clear about what I can bring to this conference: peace must be made by the Israelis and the Palestinians, and no one else. Only bilateral negotiations can succeed."

But even as Hollande was speaking in Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netyanyahu was dismissing Sunday’s peace talks.

"It's a rigged conference, rigged by the Palestinians with French auspices to adopt additional anti-Israel stances," Netanyahu told reporters in Jerusalem. "This pushes peace backwards. It's not going to obligate us. It's a relic of the past. It's a last gasp of the past before the future sets in."

A veiled warning to Trump

In his final speech to the diplomatic corps in France before stepping down, Hollande also paid tribute to his “friendship” with another outgoing leader, Obama, noting their cooperation on major issues such as the Iran nuclear deal.

Although he did not specifically mention Donald Trump, Hollande appeared to be referring to the controversial US president-elect when he warned that France will retain its autonomy in foreign-policy issues.

"France will always be there for the United States, a reliable ally. But I also want to make it clear that we will be autonomous in our choices.” France, he insisted, "will be able to take, with the freedom that marks us as a nation, positions that can sometimes be different [from those of the US] if we think that they are not in accordance with our interests or values".
 

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