Chirac to host 'healing' Europe-Russia summit

17th March 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 17 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac on Friday will host the leaders of Germany, Spain and Russia for informal talks and a working dinner aimed at repairing strained ties between Europe and Russia.

PARIS, March 17 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac on Friday will host the leaders of Germany, Spain and Russia for informal talks and a working dinner aimed at repairing strained ties between Europe and Russia.

Chirac will first meet separately with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin before German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero join them for a rare four-party summit.

Aides to the French president say the goal of the meeting is to extend a friendly hand to Putin in the hopes of encouraging him to pursue domestic political and economic reforms.

The Elysee insists that other European leaders should not feel slighted by the format of the talks, saying it is in the interest of all 25 European Union states to keep the channels of communication - formal and informal - open.

Paris says Europe must ease tensions with Russia about issues like freedom of the press, Chechnya, restoration of state control of major energy resources, and Moscow's relations with Ukraine and the EU's former Soviet Baltic states.

"France has made the political choice, within Europe and vis-a-vis the United States, to continue to have direct ties with Russia's leaders, no matter what," said Marie Mendras, an analyst at the Foundation for Political Science.

Paris, Berlin and Madrid "want at all costs to pursue a dialogue with Russia and thus set themselves apart from other European partners who are more critical like Poland and the Baltic states," added Thomas Gomart, a researcher at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).

After a summit with Putin in the Slovakian capital Bratislava last month, US President George W. Bush voiced "concerns" about Russia's commitment to democracy, evidence of increasingly chilly ties between Washington and Moscow.

Putin certainly will not suffer such a public rebuke in Paris, with the Elysee emphasising that Chirac has a more subtle diplomatic style than Bush.

The French president regularly states that the EU has a strategic interest in developing a "strong, stable, balanced and trusting" relationship with Russia.

For France, that means the EU should conclude talks with Russia on the so-called four "common spaces" meant to guide bilateral ties until 2007 - economy, justice and internal security, external security, and education and culture.

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 May 20 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, with Chirac's office simply restating that France has always urged a political solution to the fighting.

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 program - which Russia is helping to develop - to acquire nuclear weapons.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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