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Hollande pressed to amend foreign policy after Paris attacks

Updated: 2015-11-17 09:30

Hollande pressed to amend foreign policy after Paris attacks

French President Francois Hollande stands among students as he observes a minute of silence at the Sorbonne University in Paris to pay tribute to victims of Friday's Paris attacks, France, November 16, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

PARIS - French President Francois Hollande is under pressure to change policy in Syria's civil war and work more closely with Russia after a wave of deadly attacks in Paris but he seems determined to stick to his guns and escalate military action.

France has become arguably the most exposed Western nation to Islamist militants because of its activism in the Middle East's many conflicts, and its rigorous secularism at home, while the United States and Britain - burned by their experience in Iraq - have taken a more cautious approach.

Hollande's response to Friday's attacks was to declare that France is at war with Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the Paris carnage, and to launch a major air strike on IS targets in its Syrian stronghold of Rakka.

While vowing national unity, his conservative opponents criticised the Socialist president for ostracizing Russia, shunning Iran and insisting that President Bashar al-Assad must go as a pre-condition for any Syrian peace settlement. He has also faced criticism from within his own party.

"We must draw the lessons on the situation in Syria," ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, leader of the main centre-right Republicans party, said after meeting Hollande on Sunday, calling for "an inflection of our foreign policy".

"We need everyone's help to exterminate Daesh (Islamic State), notably the Russians. There cannot be two coalitions in Syria," Sarkozy told reporters.

Within the French foreign policy establishment, some veteran diplomats accuse Hollande of pursuing a "neo-conservative" foreign policy at a time when the United States and Britain have pulled back from foreign adventures.

Like other Western powers, Paris has distanced itself from Russian President Vladimir Putin and joined sanctions against Moscow over its annexation of Crimea last year and its role in destabilising eastern Ukraine.

Hollande scrapped the sale of two warships to Russia which Sarkozy had initiated while in office.

Putin's intervention in the Syria conflict last month with air strikes on anti-Assad forces, including "moderate" Islamist groups armed and trained by the West, wrongfooted the French and US governments.

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