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France, Germany extend hand to Russia at seaside summit

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are hosting Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev at a seafront summit designed to bind Moscow more closely into a partnership with the West.


AFP - France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia's President Dimitry Medvedev meet Monday for talks on building a pan-European security partnership.

The trio will meet in the seaside Channel resort of Deauville, two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Cold War and a month before the NATO allies meet to agree their new security vision.

No big announcements are expected, but observers will seek signs Moscow and the West are ready to put decades of hostility behind them and commit to what optimists see as a common security vision "from Vancouver to Vladivostok."

Some allies of France and Germany were annoyed to have been excluded from the get-together, concerned the pair should meet alone with such a difficult neighbour, but diplomats here insist the summit will defuse tensions.

"We will discuss whether it is possible for Russia and NATO to cooperate better, because the era of the Cold War is definitely over," Merkel said on Saturday in her weekly video message.

"The Russian president has proposed a common security architecture. He is working step-by-step to define this architecture -- of course in a spirit of partnership of all European countries with Russia," she said.

A senior official at Sarkozy's Elysee Palace said: "It'll be a kind of brainstorming session, to get to the bottom of thoughts and second thoughts.

"Russia seems to be looking more and more towards the West, and Deauville will be a chance to reinforce this development, which we see as positive.

French officials cite the examples of Russia's signing a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States, its cooperation on the Afghan crisis and its "scrupulous" application of the latest sanctions against Iran.

Some other NATO allies, in particular the former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe, remain suspicious of their prickly neighbour, pointing to the 2008 war in Georgia and some of Moscow's more bellicose pronouncements.

British ties with Russia have been strained by Moscow's refusal to extradite a suspect in the murder in London of a former Russian agent, and by commercial disputes over British oil giant BP's investments in Russia.

And in recent years the United States has been at loggerheads with its former Cold War foe over its plans to site a missile defence system in Europe.

But while Russia's ties with NATO as a whole have often been difficult, the Kremlin has proved adept at dealing directly one-on-one with European powers, in particular France and Germany.

Other Western allies have expressed concern over France's attempts to sell Russia a fleet of modern amphibious assault ships and Germany's involvement in a Baltic gas pipeline that will increase its reliance on Russian energy.

NATO will unveil its new security concept next month at its summit in Lisbon, and Western leaders hope Medvedev will confirm in Deauville that he will attend the meeting and give his support to their vision.

In Moscow, Medvedev's top foreign policy advisor confirmed that closer ties with NATO would be on the agenda in Deauville, including Russia's long-term goal of a formal new joint European security framework.

"Promoting Dmitry Medvedev's initiative -- the European security treaty -- is naturally of priority significance for us," Sergei Prikhodko told reporters at the Kremlin ahead of the summit.

Sarkozy and Merkel will meet each other first from aroun 1430 GMT to agree their own position before meeting Medvedev for dinner on Monday evening, with the main summit press conference following at 0945 GMT on Tuesday.

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