Russia and France lose their “ideological border”
Medvedev and Sarkozy addressed the media after their bilateral meeting in Paris Monday and summarized the results of the talks.
“Whatever we do, it is aimed at a single purpose – to create a modern peaceful world, where human rights would be respected and legislation observed,” the Russian president said.
One area of discussion that really required a mutual approach involves Iran and its highly controversial nuclear program. Last month, Tehran announced that it had started to produce higher grade enriched uranium, which caused a new wave of international criticism and fears that the Islamic Republic might be moving closer to creating nuclear weapon.
"Iran is a difficult topic,” Medvedev said. “Now practically any talks with my European and American colleagues touch upon Iran in this way or that. Unfortunately, we have not moved forward recently.”
The situation with Iran is degrading and Russia, in cooperation with its partners, is ready to consider sanctions against Tehran, Medvedev said at the media conference. The Russian president, however, made a point to stress that he would like to see the issue resolved diplomatically.
“We are being optimistic and haven’t stopped hoping we will manage to succeed [in negotiations]. Nevertheless if we cannot, Russia is ready, together with other partners, to consider sanctions,” Medvedev said. “They should not be aimed against civilians, and they should mark a last resort, beyond which dialogue is no longer possible."
Sarkozy was rather laconic over the issue, saying that Russia and France “have very close positions” in what relates to sanctions. “And that is very important,” he added.
“Excusive talks” over Mistral chopper carriers purchase begin
Meanwhile, Russia and France have begun “exclusive” talks toward the possible sale of four French warships to Moscow, President Sarkozy said, linking the issue to “mutual trust” between the two sides.
"The Mistral is a helicopter carrier that we will create for Russia without military equipment," the French president said.
The French state-of-art amphibious assault ship is capable of carrying 16 helicopters, up to 900 troops, and 40 tanks or 70 vessels. Sarkozy said two of the vessels under discussion could be built in Russia.
The plan, however, has already sparked concern among some NATO allies and Georgia. Sarkozy stressed, however, that it is time to “turn the page on the Cold War era”. He said that the West cannot ask Moscow for cooperation on such crucial issues as Iran and fighting global crisis while at the same time showing lack of trust by refusing to sell it military equipment.
The deal over the Mistral-class warship would mark the first arms sale by a NATO country to Russia.
President Medvedev said the deal would amount to “a symbol of trust between our countries” and would give Russia the chance “to receive objects we lack, but would like to create in cooperation with other countries.”
He then expressed his hope that negotiations over the Mistral purchase “would be a success”.
Earlier, Nikolay Makarov, chief of the Russian Army General Staff, explained that Russia wants to buy French technology for building Mistral-type vessels because "we have no ships of that class."
"Our large landing ships are about three to four times smaller than the Mistral,” he said, as quoted by Itar-Tass agency.
Moscow is “epicenter” of Middle East talks
One of the questions journalists asked the presidents during the media conference referred to Middle East peace process and whether any progress had been achieved between the leaders in that respect.
“Over the last two months I have had a series of meetings with partners on this issue,” Medvedev said. “I met with [Palestinian leader] Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Just recently I met with Lebanese President [Michel] Suleiman. I will meet shortly with the King of Jordan to discuss this issue. We are in the epicenter of discussions."
Russia, together with the UN, the US and the EU, is party to the Middle East Quartet of intermediaries for peace efforts. It has been taking active part in trying to bring conflicting parts to a peaceful solution. For example, Moscow has been pushing for an international conference on Middle East to be held in the Russian capital.
Medvedev repeated the invitation that such a meeting “should take place in Moscow,” while adding that other initiatives could be considered as well.
The main problem, according to Medvedev, is that “the parties do not hear each other well” and “their hearing has got worse”.
"Currently, we do not even speak of resuming direct talks,” he said. “We are talking of resuming the dialogue at least via mediators.”
Medvedev said that it is necessary “to act” since the situation is degrading.
"We are in full cooperation with the President of France there, and we regularly discuss this issue. I hope that we will be able to get the situation in the Middle East off the ground soon," Medvedev said.
Meanwhile, a ministerial meeting of the Quartet of international mediators for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be held in Moscow on March 19, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said earlier.
“START talks move to final stage”
From peace talks to nuke cuts, the topic of the ongoing Washington-Moscow talks on new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) also received its due share of attention at the media conference. The previous START agreement, signed by the US and the Soviet Union, expired on December 5 last year; Russian and American negotiators are now trying to draft a new document that is acceptable to both sides.
The negotiations have been proceeding for months and now, according to President Medvedev, the sides have “moved to the final stage of the talks and are working out the nuances on the text”.
He noted that the issue is quite complicated and, “compared to how such talks progressed in the times of competition between the US and the USSR, we are moving pretty fast”.
"I hope that the talks will be completed shortly,” he added.
Medvedev also reminded that a summit on non-proliferation will be held in the US in April, which will “offer its might” to the nuclear arms reduction process.
France, for its part, is ready to join Russia and America in nuclear disarmament, Sarkozy said. Paris, however, which is ahead of the nuclear reduction curve, will wait till the two parties get to the same level of nuclear capabilities as France: that is “about several hundred warheads,” Sarkozy said.
Medvedev welcomed the intention, saying that it was encouraging.
“Global zero is a beautiful idea", the Russian president said, referring to a world free of nuclear weapons. However, “it can only be achieved through consolidated work of all nuclear states and our confidence that no strangers are left in the 'nuclear club', those who have got there without a ticket. We cannot leave this issue unattended."
European Security should be modernized
President Medvedev also repeated his plan for a new security procedures in Europe, saying it is of crucial importance.
The Russian president recalled the events of August 2008, when Georgian troops attacked South Ossetia. He said at a time the situation was solved without “global procedures” or NATO involvement, “but with the help of the EU potential and personal involvement of the President of France who showed courage and will".
At that time, Sarkozy – who was chairing the EU – took active part in settling the conflict.
That example, according to Medvedev, shows that "we should learn to solve European issues ourselves". However, given the present “unilateral” nature of global relations, such an idea is not possible within the current framework of existing procedures.
"The Helsinki Act [of the Conference on] Security and Cooperation in Europe that was signed in 1975 is of course a very important foundation of our cooperation, but that's not enough,” Medvedev said.
“Europe has changed, and there are different players in Europe. We need to create a new framework for discussing security issues because Europe has changed after the Helsinki Act, and it is necessary to create a new framework for the security system," he said.
The Russian leader has been calling for a new European security treaty since June 2008 when he first voiced the idea at a conference in Evian, France. In autumn last year a draft treaty was sent leaders of foreign states and international organizations. However, European capitals have responded with lukewarm enthusiasm for the idea.
"We are at the very beginning of the road. The initiative proposed by Russia is not a dogma,” Medvedev said Monday. "We are ready to modernize it, but we should get adequate opportunities for discussing security issues.”
The two sides have also discussed a non-visa regime between Russia and France. President Sarkozy pledged “France will persuade their colleagues at the European Union” of the importance of this move.
In conclusion, the two leaders have already managed to hammer out a rather historical meeting, admitting as they did that the “ideological border” that once disrupted relations between Russia and France has been torn down. Now, both countries can see the challenges ahead of them much more clearly, and work side-by-side to solve them.
A number of significant deals were signed between the two countries Monday. Russia’s gas giant Gazprom signed a deal with French GDF Suez to join the Nord Stream gas project. Also, France’s Alstom company purchased 25% of the shares in Russia’s Transmashholding, the largest holding on the railway machine-building market, and signed an agreement with Russia’s railways on technological and production cooperation.
Natalia Makarova, Robert Bridge, RT