Macron says fighting 'Islamist terror' his top priority

Since early 2015, France has suffered a series of terror attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives, making it the worst-affected country in western Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron looks on as he adresses French ambassadors during the annual gathering of French diplomatic corps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on August 29, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / YOAN VALAT

Fighting "Islamist terrorism" is France's top priority, president Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday in a key foreign policy speech.

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

Since early 2015, France has suffered a series of terror attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives, making it the worst-affected country in western Europe.

"There's no place for naivete, nor for fear of Islam which confuses Islamism and Islamic," he said, calling assuring the security of the French the "raison d'etre" of the country's diplomatic efforts.

Mr Macron announced the organisation of a conference on staunching the sources of funding for terror groups, to be held in Paris in early 2018.

He also argued against taking sides in the regional power battle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

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

'No alternative'

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.

Facing 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.

France's youngest ever president has shown determination to restore what he sees as the country's declining international prestige under his predecessor, Francois Hollande.

He has 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 Mr Trump's decision to withdraw the US from the Paris accord on fighting climate change.

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".

Meanwhile, Mr Macron said he will travel to the Middle East next spring, in a trip including Israel and the Palestinian territories, to help the peace process in the region and promote a two-state solution.

"We will continue our efforts with the United Nations to find a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, living safely side-by-side within borders recognised by the international community, with Jerusalem at the capital of both states," he told a gathering of French ambassadors.

Besides Israel and the Palestinian territories, Mr Macron said the trip will include Lebanon and Jordan.