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8th May 2021

European powers focus on Islamic State at UN assembly

The fight against Islamic State (IS) took centre stage from the Ukraine war when European powers spoke at the UN general assembly in New York on Thursday (25 September).

British PM David Cameron mentioned the word “Ukraine” just once in passing in his speech, while going on to say he will seek parliamentary approval to join France and the US in anti-IS air-strikes in Iraq.

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  • Hollande did not mention Ukraine (Photo: elysee.fr)

He noted: “I don’t believe this threat of Islamist extremism will best be solved by Western ground troops directly trying to pacify or reconstruct Middle Eastern or African countries”.

But he said states should do more to combat extremist recruitment by “preachers”, as well as inside schools, prisons, and online.

Both he and French leader Francois Hollande invited Iran, a one-time Western pariah, to join the anti-IS coalition. They also held bilateral meetings with the Iranian president in the margins of the UN event.

Hollande's speech did not mention Ukraine at all.

He denounced IS’ killing earlier the same day of French hostage Herve Gourdel.

He noted that 1,000 French people are among the 15,000 foreign fighters in IS ranks. He said French jihadists will be stripped of their passports and that “terrorist propaganda” websites will be shut down.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan also concentrated on the Middle East.

He criticised the West for “double standards” on IS at the same time as its support for Israel despite Israel's killing of hundreds of civilians in Gaza.

He said Islamophobia is just as toxic as anti-Semitism. He also said Europe, which has taken in 130,000 Syrian refugees, should do more, with Turkey now home to 1.5 million.

For his part, the Spanish king spoke of the need for deeper EU integration and for Spanish to become an official UN language.

Meanwhile, two of Russia’s neighbours - Estonia and Finland - as well as Ukraine itself did put the Ukraine-Russia war at the top of their agenda.

Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves said: “It was not Ukraine's wish even to choose its security alliances [Nato membership] that was used as a justification for aggression. Its mere desire to enhance trade and political relations with the EU ... led to the country's dismemberment”.

“The international community cannot leave Crimea as it is now. We cannot accept frozen conflicts created for geopolitical ends”.

Finnish head of state Sauli Niinisto, who recently met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and whose country is going ahead with a Russian-built nuclear plant, noted: “There can be only a political solution to the crisis. We have currently seen steps towards this, but a lot of work remains to be done”.

Ukrainian PM Arseniy Yastenyuk said “Russian troops are [still] deployed in the east of Ukraine”.

“We ask our partners not to lift sanctions until Ukraine takes over the control of its entire territory – starting with the east of Ukraine, and ending with Crimea. Crimea was, is, and will be a part of Ukraine”.

But Swiss president Didier Burkhalter, who has tried to mediate between Kiev and Moscow, indicated that Russia should be brought in from the cold.

He said its actions “demand a firm response”.

But he added: “such a response must also be balanced, leaving room for dialogue and co-operation, so that an open discussion of existing differences remains possible. To simply isolate Russia from the rest of Europe will not solve any problems”.

“Stability can be restored in Ukraine and in Europe if we succeed in resolving this crisis by working with Russia – not against it”.

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