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France's Hollande talks 'Islamic State,' UK referendum

The French president has issued a call to accelerate the pace of the fight against terrorists in Iraq and Syria. In the same speech, he promised vigilance over Britain's demands to reforms its role in the EU.

French President Hollande gave a wide-ranging foreign policy address on Thursday that touched on subjects from

the fight against "Islamic State" (IS) terrorism

to Britain's position within the European Union. Still hurting from the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, Hollande swore to help make 2016 a year of "transition in Syria."

"The pace of the interventions will be accelerated and France will play its role in this," said the president in front of a gathering of ambassadors, saying that the strategically important cities of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq must be the first points of action.

Hollande also spoke of upcoming Syrian peace talks, tentatively scheduled to take place in Geneva on Monday, and his hope that an accord can be reached despite disputes among anti-Assad rebels separate from "IS" over who would represent them at the talks.

"The moderate opposition has agreed to attend. The key question of who will govern Syria should not be avoided," said Hollande, announcing his upcoming trips to Egypt, Jordan and Oman to promote stability in the region, including the de-escalation of tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani is set to visit Hollande at the same time as the Geneva talks, the first such visit by a president from Tehran in 17 years. The West hopes to convince Iran and Russia to cease propping up their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The president's comments come a day after a meeting of the defense ministers from seven anti-"IS" coalition countries on Wednesday, where the decision was reached to "reinforce support to Arab and Kurdish forces fighting Daesh [IS] on the ground."

Hollande will be 'vigilant' about UK demands

In the same talk, Hollande took on the UK's proposed reform to its position within the European Union ahead of an in-out referendum planned for 2017. Unlike other leaders who have slammed Prime Minister David Cameron for exorbitant demands, Hollande said London's demands were not "insurmountable," as long as they didn't stand in the way of the bloc's principle values.

"If Britain wants to go its own way within the European Union we can allow it, but that cannot prevent the countries that want to go further in integration, monetary for example," the French president said, promising to be "particularly vigilant" about the UK's demands.

Cameron is expected to meet with other EU leaders at the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, to drum up support for his plan ahead of a February 18-19 summit to negotiate possible changes to Britain's role in the bloc.

es/kms (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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