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Sarkozy and Medvedev to negotiate major arms deal

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-03-05

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says France has entered “exclusive negotiations” with Russia over the sale of four warships at the start of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's three-day visit of the country.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Monday that the government had entered “exclusive negotiations” with Russia over the sale of four French warships.

The deal comes at the start of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s three-day visit to France, aimed at boosting economic and political ties between the two countries.

"This is a symbol of trust between our countries," Medvedev said. "I hope that these negotiations will be crowned by success."

The possible sale of the BPC Mistral, a French amphibious assault ship, would be the first major arms sale by a NATO country to Russia, something that has alarmed Washington and NATO's allies in eastern Europe.

The Mistral can carry helicopters, troops, armoured vehicles and tanks, and countries such as Georgia fear Moscow could deploy such a vessel against them in a future conflict.

‘Privileged partners’

The meeting comes at a time when diplomatic relations between the two countries are, according to FRANCE 24 correspondent Dmitry Medvedenko, “very strong, stronger than ever, maybe”.

Medvedev and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are expected to discuss Iran's nuclear programme, Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, and Medvedev's proposal for a new European security pact, Medvedev's top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said.

France and Russia, whom many critics accuse of capitalising on differences among the European Union members, will also discuss the renewal of a partnership and cooperation agreement between Moscow and Brussels that expired in 2007.

"France is one of Russia's privileged partners," the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the visit.

Along with Germany, France is considered Russia's closest ally in western Europe. But unlike with Germany, Moscow's biggest trade partner, cooperation with France until recently has mostly been rooted in history and politics rather than economics, analysts say.

Iran sanctions 

After meetings came to a close Monday, President Medvedev took his strongest stance yet regarding sanctions on Iran. In the past, Russia has been reluctant to view sanctions as viable response, a position that has ruffled many of its Western allies.

Standing beside Sarkozy at a press conference, Medvedev made it clear that although sanctions remain a last resort, Russia would be prepared to consider such measures if talks continue to stall.

"Russia is ready, together with our other partners, to consider introducing sanctions. These sanctions should be calibrated and smart. These sanctions should not target the civilian population," he said.

‘Business buddies’

Medvedev is also expected to build on the success of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's visit to Paris in November when he clinched several landmark business deals, bolstering Russia's energy clout in Europe.

During Putin's visit, French energy giant EDF signed a deal with Russia's Gazprom to join the consortium building the South Stream gas pipeline, a competitor to an EU-backed project known as Nabucco, while French automaker Renault signed a deal to help rescue its struggling Russian partner Avtovaz

According to FRANCE 24 correspondent Medvedenko, 10 contracts are expected to come up for discussion on this visit, including the signing of a “memorandum of understanding” by which Gazprom would sell a nine percent stake in the North Stream pipeline to GDF-Suez.

If the deal is signed, Medvedenko explained, France would be the only country with stakes in both the North and South Stream pipelines, “giving a very strong political and economic power to Russia and Gazprom, giving them a voice in the European Commission on the part of France.”

On Tuesday, Medvedev is set to attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Arc de Triomphe and unveil an exhibition of Russian icons and other art dubbed "Holy Russia" at the Louvre Museum.

Ahead of the trip, the Kremlin chief talked up bilateral ties in an interview with French magazine Paris Match, speaking enthusiastically about his first stroll along the Champs Elysées and praising French cinema, which he described as close to Russia's own film-making tradition.

In addition to political and economic initiatives, Sarkozy and Medvedev are expected to launch a series of year-long cultural events aimed at celebrating the two nations' long-standing ties


Date created : 2010-03-01


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