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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attends a news conference following the talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov - UP1ED980YCKDR


By John Irish

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - France warned on Monday that the status quo in Syria risked leading to the country's permanent fragmentation and opening the door to new radical Islamist groups unless U.N. Security Council members joined forces to push a peaceful solution.

President Emmanuel Macron's election victory gave Paris, which is a key backer of the Syrian opposition and the second-largest contributor to the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State, a chance to re-examine its Syria policy.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in New York he would hold a meeting with the four other permanent members of the Security Council - Britain, China, Russia and the United States - on Thursday to persuade them to create a contact group to give new impetus to end the seven-year conflict.

"The biggest risk is that the future of Syria will be determined by military positions ... which would have two consequences: the fragmentation of a state and would stoke new forms of radicalism to replace Islamic State," Le Drian said.

Le Drian said "realism" dictated that Assad could not stay in power after millions of Syrians had fled the country due to the war, but that it was vital major powers worked together to help revive U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva.

"We have to get out of the methods that haven't enabled us to find a solution since 2011. So it's for this reason that France wants to create a contact group with the Security Council members at its core and then the regional actors affected by the situation."

While Paris has sought better ties with Russia under Macron, its position puts it at odds with Moscow and Iran, who back Assad and say the Syrian people should decide their own future.

Diplomats also say the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has yet to outline a vision for a political process in Syria and is focussing primarily on defeating Islamic State and countering Iran.

A meeting of countries that oppose Assad was to take place in New York later on Monday.

The U.N. Security Council has already adopted a Syria transition road map, and two diplomats said the latest French idea was to get the five permanent members of the council to agree first how to move forward.

The Security Council would then bring into the fold the main regional powers, although diplomats said it was pointless without Iran's involvement, which was being complicated by the Trump administration's staunch anti-Iranian position.

The last major international attempt to resolve the crisis ended in failure when the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), which included Iran, was cast aside after Syrian government forces retook the rebel stronghold of Aleppo in 2015.

"ISSG is huge. What we need is muscle, nerve to initiate something," said a senior U.N. diplomat. "We have to be creative to find ways to have Iran in the equation without blocking the whole thing and moving ahead.

"Remember Bosnia, 1993, we were in a mess, nobody was able to find a way to initiate a virtuous process there. One of the key reasons we were able to open the door ... was the creation of a contact group."

Russia, Turkey and Iran have been negotiating separately for months in Astana to try to reduce the violence on the ground by creating de-escalation zones across the country, although those talks do not cover a long-term political solution.

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Jonathan Oatis)

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