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François Hollande: Facing ISIS Threats in France, and Sagging Polls François Hollande, France’s President, Urges Action on Climate and Syria
(1 day later)
President François Hollande of France faces a number of foreign policy challenges, the most pressing of which is linked to the chaos in Syria. President François Hollande of France on Tuesday urged world powers to address the challenges of climate change and to end Syria’s bloody civil war.
Hundreds of young French citizens of North African ancestry have traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State, and many have returned as threats. France has become the Islamic State’s No. 1 target. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York ahead of next year’s presidential election in France, Mr. Hollande made a full-throated appeal to end the conflict in Syria.
As long as the Islamic State maintains its stronghold in Raqqa, Syria, it will continue to exert a powerful attraction for France’s young, radicalized men and women. Because of this, Paris has a keen interest in ending the Syrian conflict. “This Syrian tragedy will go down in history as a shame for the international community if we do not quickly put an end to it,” Mr. Hollande said.
Even so, the French government has not played an effective role in negotiations. Similarly, its attempt to insert itself into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with a peace conference earlier this year in Paris, has not gone very far. Another major worry for France has been the Islamic State’s presence in Libya, where France has supported the anti-Islamist forces to some effect. “Thousands of children are crushed under bombs; entire populations are starved,” he said. “Humanitarian convoys are attacked; chemical weapons are used.”
Seen as weak at home, with his standing in the polls ahead of next year’s election the lowest of any French president since 1958, Mr. Hollande has struggled to appear tough on terrorism. He has been eclipsed by right-wing challengers, especially a former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose hard-line positions, including harsher treatment of those considered security threats, appear more in tune with the anxious public mood. “I only have one thing to say: That’s enough,” he added, laying blame for the collapse of a cease-fire squarely on the Syrian government and its foreign backers. He urged the government’s allies to “force peace” lest they bear shared responsibility for “chaos and partition in Syria,” and he called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
At the United Nations, Mr. Hollande is certain to talk about the future of Europe. With Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, he is trying to find a new way forward for the European Union after the British voted to pull out. If the world acts, Mr. Hollande said, “there will finally be hope for the displaced and for the refugees.” He added that ending the Syrian conflict would help hobble the Islamic State, which occupies territory in both Syria and neighboring Iraq.
But he has yet to provide a convincing philosophy for Europe in the face of increasing public skepticism of the European project. Mr. Hollande also called on the gathered countries to “do everything to implement the historic agreement” on climate change that was signed in Paris last year because there was “no time to lose.”
The French president, who is eager to make the climate change deal part of his legacy, praised the United States and China for announcing that they would ratify the agreement, and he urged other countries to “accelerate” their ratification processes.
Mr. Hollande touched only briefly on the problems facing Europe, saying he would convene a meeting to discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine, but he made no mention, for instance, of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.
Instead, he focused on Africa, calling it a “continent that is full of promises” but adding that its development was hampered by climate change, war and terrorism. Mr. Hollande said that ensuring access to electricity for all Africans was a crucial goal.
Terrorism figured prominently in Mr. Hollande’s speech: “No sea, no wall will be able to protect a country from this tragedy,” he said. France is still recovering from a string of terrorist attacks in the past year and a half, and Mr. Hollande is struggling in polls ahead of the presidential election next year.
Mr. Hollande did not directly refer to the election, or to the right-wing and far-right candidates who have voiced increasingly hard-line proposals to fight terrorism. But, he said, “we must fight against the populisms that have seized upon disarray to divide, to separate, to stigmatize, to pit religions against one another.”