Zapatero in historic talks with Putin, Shroeder, Chirac

18th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

18 March 2005, MADRID- Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was due in Paris for talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schroeder.

18 March 2005

MADRID- Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was due in Paris for talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Jacques Chirac of France and Gerhard Schroeder.

The aim of the talks, which will be the first of their kind between the four leaders, is to bolster ties between Moscow and the EU.

However the meeting risked raising hackles elsewhere in Europe -notably Poland and the Baltics- where any Franco-German effort to dominate EU relations with Russia would be strongly opposed.

The pretext of the encounter is to further the three-way alliance between Putin, Chirac and Schroeder that was triggered by their opposition to the Iraq war two years ago.

Zapatero was added to the group at the invitation of Chirac, who sees the Spanish prime minister as a new ally in the European
Union.

With Putin increasingly accused of flouting democratic norms in his handling of the press, business and the war in Chechnya, Chirac was expected to favour a more discreet approach to the Russian leader than US President George W Bush, commentators said.

Last month Bush was publicly critical of Russia's democratic shortcomings at a meeting with Putin in Bratislava, indicating that the US-Russian relationship has entered a period of strain.

The Kremlin-which considers France, Germany and Spain as the driving force behind the EU-says it also wants to move forward on the "common spaces" in Paris, ahead of the EU-Russia summit set for 10 May in Moscow.

A spokesman for Zapatero said the three European leaders could raise the thorny issue of Chechnya with Putin, in the wake of the killing earlier this month of rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov by Russian forces.

But any mention of the conflict in the breakaway republic would be made in a discreet way.

Iran could also be on the agenda for the summit. Britain, France and Germany are trying to secure guarantees that Tehran will not use its atomic energy programme-which Russia is helping to develop-to acquire nuclear weapons.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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