|Date: 01/06/2012 Time: 11:48:00 PM
French President Francois Hollande and President
Vladimir Putin of Russia met here late Friday to discuss international and
bilateral issues, prominent among them the Syrian crisis, Iran's nuclear
programme and the Middle East peace process.
Speaking in a press conference after a "one-on-one meeting" and a working
dinner, both men said they had had a broad conversation on many issues and had
agreed to continue consultations.
But there was a clear difference on Syria, with Hollande urging tougher
action against the Syrian regime and Putin more measured, saying the goal was
"a political solution".
The French leader said that the regime of Bashar Al-Assad "has acted in an
unacceptable and intolerable way" and has "disqualified himself" from
leadership and "there will be no exit from this situation without the
departure of Bashar Al-Assad".
But Putin, who held talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany earlier
today, countered that "destitution of the president in office would not
necessarily make the Syrian people happy".
Hollande also maintained that the solution in Syria must pass by UN
Resolutions and the Annan plan and Putin agreed.
However, when the French leader expressed the need for UN Security Council
sanctions against Damascus, Putin expressed reserves, saying that sanctions
were not always effective.
Hollande repeated that the Syrian regime was a threat to "security and
stability" and "to get results there must be sanctions and pressure ... and
sanctions are part of the pressure to get a political solution".
If nothing is done, "we risk civil war in Syria," the French President said.
"We must do everything so that (UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's) mission
is crowned with success," Putin declared.
"The question of sanctions must be debated in the United Nations. They are
not always effective," he added.
"We have very good relations over the long term with Syria," Putin noted,
but he said Russia did not have major economic interests or military
cooperation with Syria, as has been claimed.
He warned about "the radicalisation" of the conflict and the risk of civil
war that could become "uncontrollable with civilian losses".
He denied observations that Russia was taking sides, saying "we don't pick
one side or the other ... we are nor for Bashar Al-Assad".
The Russian leader said what he wanted was "to reduce violence to a
minimum" and prevent civil conflict.
"What is acceptable to the Syrian people is acceptable to us," he
maintained, adding "we have to arrive at that point (and) nobody can do this
in the place of Syria".
Separately on Iran, Hollande said both men agreed and "shared the same
views on the steps after the relative disappointment of Baghdad," where the
5+1 and Iranian officials met May 23-24 to discuss a solution to the nuclear
"We will push for a result," Hollande said in reference to the next meeting
with Iran on June 18-19 in Moscow.
"We cannot accept, at least I cannot, that a country uses civil technology
for military ends," the French President indicated.
Both men also agreed on the approach to resolving the Middle East conflict,