Sarkozy heads to Russia for frank talks with Putin
9 October 2007, PARIS (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to Moscow on Tuesday where he intends to stake out a frank new relationship with Russia, which he has accused of "complicating" world affairs.
9 October 2007
PARIS (AFP) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy heads to Moscow on Tuesday where he intends to stake out a frank new relationship with Russia, which he has accused of "complicating" world affairs.
Sarkozy's first major meeting with Vladimir Putin could set sparks flying as since his election in May he has attacked Russia's rights record and accused it of using its vast oil and gas reserves to bully its European neighbours, while seeking a clear rapprochement with Washington.
On a visit to Sofia last week, Sarkozy accused Russia of complicating the world's problems, saying it "should understand that big countries have not only rights, but also responsibilities."
But Sarkozy and Putin -- who met for the first time at the Group of Eight meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany in June -- have both downplayed suggestions of diplomatic tensions and underscore the importance of their relationship.
But there will be still plenty of grounds for tension when the two meet for dinner at Putin's dacha in the Moscow suburbs on Tuesday. Chief among them is the question of independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo, which is backed by France but fiercely opposed by Moscow.
Iran is another area of disagreement, with Russia reluctant to back US and European calls for new sanctions to force Tehran to halt sensitive nuclear activities.
In an interview with the official Russian daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta before his trip, Sarkozy called for "increasing sanctions" against Tehran but also held out the option of a diplomatic solution.
"Between resignation and war, two words which do not belong in my dictionary, there is a responsible attitude -- increasing sanctions to bring Iran to reason, but also the opening of dialogue if Iran chooses to respect its obligations," Sarkozy said in the interview in Tuesday's edition of the newspaper.
Moscow meanwhile said it hoped the visit would clear the air on France's stand on several global issues.
"This visit will thus present a good opportunity to clarify the position of French leaders on a whole range of international issues, which is particularly important in view of contradictory statements made by French officials regarding Paris's approach," an unnamed Kremlin official said.
Sarkozy, who has criticised Russia's military campaign in Chechnya, was also expected to raise the question of human rights during a meeting with students on Wednesday. His visit comes a year after the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who exposed atrocities in war-torn province.
On the economic front however, Sarkozy's visit was set to confirm the healthy state of trade ties. French and Russian energy giants Total and Gazprom are in partnership to develop Russia's vast Shtokman gas field, and Russian airline Aeroflot has pledged to buy 22 A350s from European manufacturer Airbus.
New projects to be discussed in Moscow include a possible collaboration between European aerospace giant EADS and its Russian counterpart UAC; or a French participation in the Superjet 100 passenger plane being developed by state-run aircraft manufacturers Sukhoi.
Subject: French news