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Sarkozy Says France, Russia, Narrow Some Differences

October 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy has held talks with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, saying he and his Russian counterpart found some common ground on the issues of Iran's nuclear program and Kosovo's future.

On his first visit to Russia as president, Sarkozy seemed eager to mend fences with his Russian counterpart, after his statement last week that Russia is "complicating" world affairs threw a chill into their relations.

Speaking today in opening remarks at their Kremlin meeting, a smiling Sarkozy addressed Putin in the familiar "tu" form.

The talks come after what Sarkozy has described as a "frank and fascinating discussion" over dinner with Putin October 9.

The Russian leader the same day also struck a conciliatory tone, saying France had always been one of Russia's priority partners.

Moving Closer?

Both leaders have been at odds over key international issues such as Iran's nuclear program.

Russia has opposed calls from France and other Western countries for fresh UN sanctions over Iran's uranium-enrichment activities, which they suspect is a cover to build a nuclear bomb.

Sarkozy said today their positions had "moved closer."

Putin, however, told a joint news conference following today's meeting that there was no proof Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons:

"We have no evidence that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. We have no objective information to that effect," he said. "Our assumption, therefore, is that Iran does not have such plans. However, we share the desire of our partners that Iran should make all of its [nuclear] programs absolutely transparent."

Sarkozy said he and Putin had also narrowed their differences over the issue of Kosovo, but gave no details.

Russia, a strong ally of Serbia, has strongly rejected UN plans to grant the separatist Serbian province of Kosovo internationally supervised independence.

Energy Also On Agenda

Sarkozy told reporters that French investors were eager to purchase a stake in Gazprom, Russia's state-run gas monopoly that supplies a quarter of Europe's gas.

Stressing that his country's policy is transparency and reciprocity, Sarkozy said France was prepared to give its "Russian friends" access to some of its major assets.

Sarkozy is scheduled later today to meet representatives of the Russian human rights group Memorial, which has been active in denouncing abuses by Russian and pro-Russian troops in Chechnya.

Addressing students at Moscow State Technical University earlier today, Sarkozy allowed himself a veiled criticism of the country's human rights record under Putin's rule, saying the world would be "grateful" if Russia built a democratic society.

Sarkozy, however, told the news conference that his country understood Russia's historical "specificity."

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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