Sarkozy hails Russia as gas, skyscraper deals inked

19th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Nicolas Sarkozy Saturday hailed Europe's cooperation with Russia as French and Russian firms signed a string of deals ranging from skyscrapers in Paris to undersea gas pipelines.

Sarkozy made a characteristically lightning visit to Saint Petersburg for talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and to attend the close of the city's annual economic forum.

"I have the conviction that Europe and Russia must work together in a strategic way, very closely, in a relationship of confidence," Sarkozy said in a keynote speech.

"The Cold War is over. The Wall is finished. Russia is a great power, we are neighbours, we are destined to be friends, we must come closer to each other," he added.

With Medvedev and Sarkozy looking on, French utility EDF signed a memorandum to take about 10 percent in the Russian-backed South Stream pipeline to pump Russian gas to Europe across the Black Sea.

They will join existing shareholders Russia's Gazprom and Italy's Eni. Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said it was not planned that EDF's stake would come from the Russian company.

Meanwhile, fellow utility GDF-Suez signed a similar memorandum to take a stake of about 10 percent in Nord Stream, a similar project to ship Russian gas to Europe through the Baltic.

Russian investment fund Hermitage signed a preliminary deal to build two skyscrapers 320 metres high in the modern La Defense quarter on the outskirts of Paris, in a deal worth two billion euros (2.5 billion dollars).

The project, called Hermitage Plaza and signed by Hermitage and the French municipal authorities, will be designed by the British architect Norman Foster and will house flats, offices and shops.

Other deals included an accord signed by Russian space agency Roskosmos and France's Arianespace for the supply of Russian Soyuz rockets for France's launch site in French Guiana.

Playing up warm personal ties, Sarkozy said he had confidence in Medvedev's words and particularly appreciated his country's decision to back a new round of sanctions against Iran at the UN Security Council.

"Nothing would have been possible if he had not made and taken on this choice," said Sarkozy.

Sarkozy also told Medvedev, whose country has always insisted on a diplomatic outcome to the nuclear standoff, that France was prepared "without delay" to have talks with Iran on its nuclear drive at the UN nuclear agency, the French presidency said.

Sarkozy said that the new UN sanctions against Iran "were not to punish Iran but to convince its leaders to resume the path of negotiations," a presidential official said.

The talks would be based on a deal aimed at ending the standoff brokered by Brazil and Turkey as well as the response given by UN Security Council powers France, Russia and the United States in the form of sanctions, the official said.

Sarkozy said he had largely discarded his prepared remarks at the forum in favour of giving a more spontaneous address.

"For my trip to Saint Petersburg, for Dmitry, I thought it better to say what I think than what my administration thinks," he laughed.

Sarkozy, known for his speedy style of governance, quipped that there were not many differences between the two versions, "except what they (aides) want to do in 20 years I want in two months."

However despite the array of deals and warm words, no accord was signed on the long-mooted purchase by Russia of French Mistral-class assault ships.

Negotiations appear to have stumbled over Moscow's demands for a transfer of technology so that the sold vessels arrive already fully equipped.

The deal would be the first sale of advanced military hardware to Russia by a NATO country and Russia has still not ruled out sealing an accord with alternative partners.

© 2010 AFP

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