Putin and Sarkozy Target Kosovo, Iran Tensions

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy held new talks in Moscow on Wednesday seen as a chance to reduce East-West tensions over Iran and Kosovo.

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy in his Datcha at Novo-Ogarievo 09 October 2007 near Moscow. (AFP Photo)

Following weeks of chilly statements between Paris and Moscow, the two were to meet at the Kremlin after what Sarkozy called a "frank and passionate discussion" over dinner on Tuesday. The French leader was also to address students at a leading university.

Sarkozy, who is on his first official visit to Russia as president, said the pair's positions on the Iran nuclear standoff had "moved closer" during the meeting.

Sarkozy said they had seen "a path which could eventually allow us to bring our views closer" on Kosovo, the Serbian province where the ethnic Albanian population demand independence.

However, the French leader has an uphill task if he is to resolve tensions over the two key international issues.

Russia has been reluctant to back calls from Europe and the United States for new sanctions to force Tehran to halt sensitive nuclear activities that Western powers suspect hide efforts to build a bomb.

On Kosovo, Russia has sided with Serbia in opposing French and other Western backing for independence in the want-away province, currently administered by the United Nations.

There are also tensions over Sarkozy's robust criticism of human rights under Putin's rule and the alleged use by Russia of its energy riches to bully European neighbours.

On a visit to Bulgaria last week, Sarkozy said Russia was "complicating" world affairs, adding 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 summit in Germany in June, played down suggestions of diplomatic tensions and underscored the importance of their relationship in comments before Tuesday's dinner.

"France understands Russia's wish to resume its rightful place on the international scene," Sarkozy told reporters.

But while the French delegation is keen to focus on geopolitical issues, Russia hopes to keep the talks grounded in the economy, the state Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper reported Wednesday citing presidential advisor Sergei Prikhodko.

French and Russian energy giants Total and Gazprom are in partnership to develop Russia's vast Shtokman natural gas field, and Russian airline Aeroflot has pledged to buy 22 A350s from European manufacturer Airbus.

New projects to be discussed in Moscow include possible collaboration between European aerospace giant EADS and its Russian counterpart UAC, or French participation in a Russian passenger jet project.

A Russian Foreign Ministry source was quoted as saying Sarkozy's main aim would be to glean on behalf of the European Union what exactly Putin's plans are after he is due to step down as president in 2008.

"You could say Sarkozy is on a reconnaissance mission," the RBK business daily quoted the source as saying.

Source: AFP

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