Putin welcomes European efforts to save Iran nuclear deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and French President Emmanuel Macron (L) shake hands after a news conference following their talks in Konstantin Palace, Strelna, outside St. Petersburg, Russia, 24 May 2018. [Yuri Kochetkov/EPA/EFE]

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday (24 May) that his country appreciated efforts by Europe to save the Iran nuclear deal despite the withdrawal of the United States and warned of “lamentable consequences” if it was not preserved.

Putin made the comment in a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, offering some support for the French leader’s plan for negotiating a broader agreement with Tehran to cover Iran’s ballistics program and its activities in the Middle East.

Macron and Putin: 'Frenemies' reunited

With relations between the West and Russia at historic lows, French President Emmanuel Macron travels to St Petersburg Thursday to seek common ground with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Macron met Putin seeking to win concessions on Syria, Iran and Ukraine after returning largely empty-handed from a state visit to the United States.

“Certainly we can discuss Iran’s ballistic missiles. We can discuss Iran’s policies in the Middle East and its nuclear activities after 2025,” Putin said.

“But we cannot make preserving the Iranian nuclear deal dependent on these three parameters because if we do, it means that we too are withdrawing from the accord because the deal that exists foresees no additional conditions.”

A Macron adviser hailed Putin’s comments as a “key” point of convergence between Paris and Moscow as the Trump administration urges its European allies to sever economic ties with Iran.

After talks that ran long over schedule, Macron and Trump entered the news conference looking relaxed and smiling. Macron acknowledged Paris and Moscow disagreed on a range of issues but called for “strong multilateralism”.

Earlier, it was announced French energy major Total would buy a 10% stake in a Russian Arctic gas project, showing the Kremlin’s ability to find foreign partners despite Western sanctions.

“I hope Russia understands France is a credible and trustworthy European partner,” Macron said.

EU energy chief courts Iran after Trump's withdrawal from nuclear deal

Europe’s energy and climate chief sought to reassure Iran’s top ministers on Saturday (19 May) that the European Union wants to keep trade open despite the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

At odds over Syria

As Macron spoke at length, Putin’s eyes frequently drifted towards the ceiling, his brow slightly furrowed.

There were few signs Macron succeeded in shifting Putin’s stance over Syria, where Russian and Iranian military support for President Bashar al-Assad over the past three years has allowed Assad to crush the rebel threat to topple him.

The two men agreed on creating a coordination mechanism among world powers to push ahead with finding a political solution in Syria, and that the focus should be on a new constitution and setting up elections that would include all Syrians.

“We need to be talking about the situation after the war. The key is to build a stable Syria,” Macron said.

But he won no clear backing from his Russian counterpart for an international body that would attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks.

France, together with the United States and Britain conducted a missile attack against the heart of Syria’s chemical weapons program in mid-April in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack a week earlier.

Putin predicts global 'chaos' if West hits Syria again

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Sunday (15 April) that further Western attacks on Syria would bring chaos to world affairs, as Washington prepared to increase pressure on Russia with new economic sanctions.

Addressing North Korea, both men said they hoped the United States and North Korea would continue working towards denuclearizing the Korean peninsula after U.S. President Donald Trump called off a planned summit.

Macron said he hoped Trump’s move “was just a glitch in a process that should be continued.”

Human rights

Macron said he met the head of Russia’s oldest rights group as well as the widow of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel literature laureate and prominent dissident of the Soviet era.

Facing calls at home to send a signal on human rights and democratic values to the Russian leader during his visit, Macron posted pictures on Thursday night of his meeting with the head of the Memorial rights group, Alexander Cherkasov.

As the first non-governmental organization registered in the Soviet Union, Memorial is a symbol of the fight for democracy and human rights in Russia.

It is now one of hundreds of NGOs under scrutiny for receiving funding from abroad and involvement in what is loosely defined as “political activities.”

“Memorial is really the symbol of a democratic Russia that is brutalised by the authorities. Macron can show that Russia, for him, is not only its leaders but also its civil society,” French philosopher Michel Eltchaninoff told Reuters.

Macron also posted on Twitter a video of his meeting with Solzhenitsyn’s widow, Natalia Solzhenitsyn, whom he called “the echo of a voice that marked the 20th century and continues to shine in ours.”

Long banned at home, Alexander Solzhenitsyn gained fame when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev allowed the publication in 1962 of his “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, which described the horrifying routine of labor-camp life.

He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 for his work, including “The Gulag Archipelago”, a chronicle of his own and thousands of other prison-camp experiences.

His books unveiled the dark secrets of the Gulag network of camps where millions of Russians died during Stalin’s purges. Some read and distributed his books underground, defying state persecution.

After Solzhenitsyn’s return following his expulsion from the country, the post-Soviet leadership paid him much respect. But he became increasingly critical of the state of modern-day Russia, denouncing corruption.

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