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Emmanuel Macron

French leader Macron stoutly defends global cooperation at UN

French leaders’ address provides counterpoint to threat by Donald Trump to destroy North Korea

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 3:13am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 3:38am

French President Emmanuel Macron issued a ringing defence of global cooperation on Tuesday, telling world leaders that solving major challenges otherwise will be reduced to “the survival of the fittest.”

In his first appearance at the UN General Assembly, Macron vowed to press ahead with the Paris accord to combat global warming, although the United States has said it is withdrawing.

He also said France won’t “close any door to dialogue” with North Korea and that it would be “a grave error” to unwind the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as it faces strong criticism from US President Donald Trump. Macron also called for investing in education and health, and he proposed appointing a UN representative for press freedom.

Seven decades after the end of World War II and the creation of the United Nations, international bodies are confronting doubts, Macron said.

“We have allowed the idea to proliferate that multilateralism is a kind of game, a game for diplomats sitting around a table,” he said, but have come up short on addressing such major threats as climate change.

“Today, more than ever before, we need multilateralism” to work on that and other global issues, such as war and terrorism, Macron said.

“We can only address those challenges through multilateralism,” he said, “not through survival of the fittest.”

Macron presented a counterpoint to Trump, who in his own debut speech at the General Assembly a few hours earlier had urged countries to embrace their own “national sovereignty” to do more to ensure their own prosperity and security.

Trump had tough words for North Korea, threatening to “totally destroy” the Asian nation if the US is forced to defend itself or its allies against aggression, and also for the Iran pact, which he called “an embarrassment” to the US. He hinted that his administration could soon declare Iran out of compliance with the deal, which could unravel it.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, warned that the threat of a nuclear attack is at its highest level since the end of the cold war and “fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings.”

His message in his first state-of-the-world report since taking the reins of the United Nations on January 1, was implicitly directed at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but also at Trump. The two have traded tough rhetoric amid Pyongyang’s continuing nuclear and missile tests.

Donald Trump threatens ‘total destruction’ of North Korea over nuclear programme during UN address

Speaking to presidents, prime ministers and monarchs at the opening of the General Assembly’s annual ministerial meeting, the UN chief put “nuclear peril” as the leading global threat, warning that “we must not sleepwalk our way into war.” He said there must be a political solution to North Korea’s activities, stressing: “This is a time for statesmanship.”

Beyond the nuclear threat, Guterres painted a grim picture of a troubled world facing grave challenges with many people “hurting and angry” because they “see insecurity rising, inequality growing, conflict spreading and climate changing.”

“Societies are fragmented,” he said. “Political discourse is polarised. Trust within and among countries is being driven down by those who demonise and divide.”

“We are a world in pieces,” Guterres said. “We need to be a world at peace.”

Guterres said there are seven threats and tests that stand in the way: nuclear peril, terrorism, unresolved conflicts and systematic violations of international humanitarian law, climate change, rising inequality, unintended consequences of innovation, and people on the move.

These issues are expected to dominate the six-day meeting. On day one, however, the spotlight was on Trump and Macron.

Many world leaders were getting their first chance to hear and meet Trump. He said the United States seeks harmony and friendship, not conflict and strife on the world stage, but he warned that Americans “can no longer be taken advantage of.”

He said all responsible nations must work together to confront terrorists and Islamic extremists that inspire them. And “it is time to expose and hold responsible” nations that provide funding and safe harbour to terror groups, Trump said.

Rohingya crisis: Myanmar’s Suu Kyi addresses nation as communal conflict tears it apart

Not far behind North Korea on the list of issues needing urgent international attention is the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, victims of what Guterres called a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” that has driven nearly 400,000 to flee into Bangladesh in the past three weeks.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who cancelled plans to attend the General Assembly in a decision widely seen as a response to international criticism, earlier Tuesday defended the government and said her country does not fear international scrutiny. She invited diplomats to see some areas for themselves.

Guterres told leaders in his General Assembly address that “I take note” of Suu Kyi’s speech.

“We are all shocked by the dramatic escalation of sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State,” he said. “The authorities in Myanmar must end the military operations, and allow unhindered humanitarian access. They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long.”

Monster Hurricane Maria smashes Caribbean region still reeling from Hurricane Irma

The world leaders gathered as Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm, smashed the small Caribbean nation of Dominica with 160mph winds. It ripped the roof off even the prime minister’s residence and caused what he called “mind-boggling” devastation. The storm was on a track to strike Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

On Monday, Guterres and top government officials from several countries devastated by the other Category 5 storm, Hurricane Irma, addressed a hastily called UN meeting and appealed for help to rebuild following that storm’s destruction.

Guterres has repeatedly focused on the challenge posed by climate change.

He called this year’s hurricane season “the most violent on record” and warned that extreme weather linked to climate change is having an impact all over the world, “including floods in southern Asia and landslides and droughts in Africa.”