French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a news conference that heads of state and government were coming together for their annual meeting at the General Assembly at "a critical moment" that is witnessing "a worrying degradation of the international environment."
What is worse, he said, is that some countries are increasingly questioning the role of working together, "and with a temptation of withdrawal out of fear or selfishness." He gave no examples but appeared to be pointing to growing nationalism in the United States and some European countries.
The ministerial session starts Tuesday with a state of the world speech by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, both making their debuts at the global gathering, will address the 193-member world body soon after.
Le Drian cited the increasing number of global crises: fighting terrorism; resolving conflicts from the Middle East to Africa; tackling North Korea's escalating nuclear program; and addressing the flight of more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
France's priority is to work on concrete solutions because these crises affect European security and "jeopardize the international order," he said. "In view of this degraded situation, France has a specific responsibility because it has the means, and because its voice is heard, and because France is perceived as a balancing power," he added.
Fighting the Islamic State extremist group and finding the political conditions to ensure Syria's stability are essential, Le Drian said. What's been tried since 2011 hasn't worked, he added, and France has proposed the establishment of a contact group including the five permanent veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and key players and affected countries.
One stumbling block has been whether Iran should be included. Le Drian wouldn't answer, saying this issue and others would be discussed later Monday at a closed ministerial meeting on Syria. He stressed that the fragmentation of Syria, which could spawn "other forms of terrorism," must be avoided, and there must be humanitarian access throughout the country. He added that France remains committed to bringing those behind chemical weapons attacks to justice.
On another hotspot, Macron has taken the lead in trying to bring the rival governments in Libya together, and Le Drian said the country cannot be left "in such a state of instability," which affects its neighbors and all of Europe.
"That's why we're supporting the Libyan people to face the challenges they have to face — eradicate terrorism on its own territory, control migratory flows, thwart all kinds of trafficking and restore the political unity of the country for security and stability," he said.
All these issues will be discussed at a meeting chaired by Guterres on Wednesday. On North Korea's escalating nuclear and ballistic missile program, Le Drian strongly opposed military action when asked about Trump's threats.
"France's determination is to make sure that we bring North Korea to the table of negotiations," he said. "It's the only possible way of going about it, to pressure North Korea through sanctions and to bring it to negotiations."
As for the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, Le Drian said there must be "a collective response by the international community" and "a system to try to ensure their protection." He said leaders are also waiting for Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi "to give a strong answer" and support "a real dialogue."
France is one of the six parties to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and Le Drian said the government will try to convince Trump not to pull out of the agreement. "Today, there is nothing that allows us to believe that the agreement is not abided by nor implemented," he said. "It's essential to maintain this agreement alive to avoid spiraling proliferation and to encourage the hard-liners in Iran to try and acquire nuclear weapons."
Trump has said the United States is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement to combat global warming. Le Drian said there are over 145 ratifications of the 2015 agreement and the focus now must be on implementation.
"There is no way back and there is no Plan B," he said. "There cannot be any unilateral or solitary solutions. What affects some of us today will affect all of us in the future, and everybody will suffer from global warming."
As for Trump, Le Drian said, "we can only hope to convince him in the long run — but in order to convince him we need to have strong international support and pressure." Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a hastily called meeting on the impact of Hurricane Irma that this year's hurricane season is already the most violent on record, with four major Atlantic hurricanes in the past month.
"The season fits a pattern: Changes to our climate are making extreme weather events more severe and frequent, pushing communities into a vicious cycle of shock and recovery," he said. Guterres said extreme weather linked to climate change is having an impact all over the world and he urged people everywhere to reduce carbon emissions and scale up efforts to reduce risks and vulnerabilities to weather events.
Two-time Oscar-winning actor Robert De Niro made a plea for international help to rebuild the island of Barbuda, where Irma damaged or destroyed an estimated 90 percent of the structures and the entire population of about 1,400 had to be evacuated to nearby Antigua.
De Niro, who co-owns a resort on Barbuda, implored all countries and agencies to ensure that Barbudans can go home — and that "paradise is not lost."