Middle East

Russia, France to tackle Syria during Medvedev visit

French President Francois Hollande (C) flanked by his companion Valerie Trierweiler (2ndR), speaks with women, on November 25, 2012 in Paris. AFP PHOTO POOL BERTRAND LANGLOIS

PARIS: Russia and France will tackle disagreements over how to deal with the Syria conflict this week when Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visits Paris for talks.

Medvedev, the ex-president who is considered less hardline than his mentor Vladimir Putin, will head a delegation of ministers and meet French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday.

Diplomats say the talks with Hollande are expected to focus on the Syria conflict, which has sown deep discord between Western powers and Russia and China.

"It is an issue where, there can be no doubt, we have some disagreements with France, but also some common views. Russia like France wants to find a political solution, the disagreements are over how," said Russia's envoy to Paris, Alexander Orlov.

After 20 months of conflict and more than 40,000 people dead, the international community is making no progress on finding a political solution to the conflict, with Russia and China blocking efforts at the UN Security Council to ratchet up the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad.

"There is a major disagreement," Orlov said. "The West says it (a solution) must start with the departure of Bashar al-Assad, and we say this is where it must end."

Russia has accused Western powers of escalating the conflict by backing armed rebels and said plans pushed by Paris to provide the rebels with "defensive weapons" would violate international law.

Moscow has also criticised Turkey's requested deployment by NATO of Patriot missiles on the border with Syria, warning that the move raises the risk of expanding the conflict.

Outside of Syria, the talks are expected to focus on economic and cultural cooperation, including, Orlov said, the possible purchase by Russia of French navy boats after its agreement to buy two Mistral-class warships from Paris.

Plans to build a Russian Orthodox church and cultural centre near the Eiffel Tower are also expected to be on the table.

Russia recently suspended its request for a construction permit to build the church and cultural facility on the banks of the Seine River following criticism by Paris officials that the five-domed building was inappropriate for the city's skyline.





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