Friday, January 21, 2005

Expatica - Living in, moving to, or working in France, plus French news in English

Expatica - Living in, moving to, or working in France, plus French news in English: "Paris, Moscow eye-to-eye on Iran, Iraq and Mideast

NAKHABINO, Russia, Jan 20 (AFP) - Visiting French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier on Thursday spoke of "real convergence" between Paris and Moscow on Iran's nuclear program, the Iraq crisis and the Middle East peace process.

"We can point to many issues of real convergence on issues facing us. I am thinking of regional crises, such as Iraq, peace hopes in the Middle East and negotiations with Iran on non-proliferation," he told reporters in this Moscow suburb, with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at his side.

The two men are to take up those issues Friday at a meeting of the Franco-Russian security cooperation council which will also be attended by defence ministers of the two countries.

Russia and three western European countries - Britain, France and Germany- share a view that Tehran can be persuaded through talks to restrict its nuclear activities to the civilian sphere and to fulfil its international obligations in this regard, a French official said here earlier Thursday.

"We have kept the Russians informed on our negotiations from the beginning," the official, a member of the Barnier delegation, told reporters, referring to European talks with Iran on its controversial nuclear program.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, admitted that Washington was "very sceptical" of the European initiative on Iran but said Paris had heard nothing suggesting that Washington planned to confront Iran militarily over its nuclear ambitions.

US President George W. Bush refused earlier this week to rule out military action by the United States if it found Iran was pursuing development of nuclear weapons.

He was commenting on an article that appeared in The New Yorker magazine stating that US operatives have been working on the ground in Iran since last summer, gathering information on potential military targets.

Iran warned Thursday it would respond to any threat from the United States.

"The Americans know, and we are telling them, that the Russians are on the same wavelength as we are," the French official said here.

"Iran is interested in strengthening its status as a regional power with a nuclear weapon... and we want to persuade them that this can be achieved better through economic development," he added.

Russia is completing construction of Iran's first nuclear power reactor despite fears in the United States and Israel that the project could help the Islamic state develop nuclear warheads.

Turning to what he called the Chechnya "crisis", Barnier said: "We want to encourage the political process so that violence against the civilian population can end, so that politics, dialogue prevail."

"I restated our position on this serious crisis. We want to combat terrorism wherever it exists," he added, while stressing that Russia's territorial integrity must not be questioned."

Some 80,000 Russian troops are based in and around Chechnya, where a guerrilla war continues to rage more than five years since the latest conflict in the breakaway Russian republic began.

Meanwhile in Saint-Petersburg, visiting French Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Thursday urged Russia to reject isolationism and instead boost ties with Europe to ensure regional stability.

"It is in no one's interest to see Russia become edgy or to withdraw inward," she said during her visit to Russia's second largest city at the invitation of her Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov.

"When there are periods of edginess, it is France's task to lift some ambiguities and to play this role of facilitator by relying on old ties which we may have but also on personal relations based on trust," she said.

"This serves the interest of Europe and of balanced international relations," she added."


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