Macron talks hard line with Putin

Cape Breton Post - - World -

Flex­ing his diplo­matic mus­cles, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said he had “ex­tremely frank, di­rect” talks with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on Mon­day, push­ing for co-op­er­a­tion on Syria and against the Is­lamic State group but also launch­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary at­tack on two Rus­sian me­dia out­lets he ac­cused of spread­ing “ly­ing pro­pa­ganda.”

The two lead­ers emerged from their first meet­ing — dis­cus­sions at the sump­tu­ous Palace of Ver­sailles that lasted more than an hour longer than planned — clearly still at odds on mul­ti­ple is­sues, but also seem­ingly keen not to let their dif­fer­ences de­fine their fledg­ling re­la­tion­ship.

Macron said he spoke to Putin about LGBT rights in Chech­nya and about the rights of em­bat­tled NGOs in Rus­sia, vow­ing he would be “con­stantly vig­i­lant” on these is­sues. Putin em­pha­sized the need for closer co-op­er­a­tion be­tween Rus­sia and France, two nu­clear-armed per­ma­nent mem­bers of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

Speak­ing with re­mark­able frank­ness, Macron tore into the state-funded Rus­sian me­dia out­lets Sput­nik and Rus­sia To­day, for spread­ing what he said were “se­ri­ous un­truths” dur­ing the French elec­tion.

“When press out­lets spread defam­a­tory un­truths, they are no longer jour­nal­ists, they are or­gans of in­flu­ence. Rus­sia To­day and Sput­nik were or­gans of in­flu­ence dur­ing this cam­paign, which, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions pro­duced un­truths about me and my cam­paign,” Macron said.

“I will not give an inch on this,” he said. “Rus­sia To­day and Sput­nik ... be­haved as or­gans of in­flu­ence, of pro­pa­ganda, of ly­ing pro­pa­ganda.”

Macron was the first Western leader to speak to Putin af­ter the Group of Seven sum­mit over the week­end, where re­la­tions with Rus­sia were a key topic.

His in­vi­ta­tion to the Rus­sia leader was a sur­prise af­ter the tough stance on Rus­sia Macron took dur­ing the French elec­tion. Macron’s aides also claimed that Rus­sian groups launched hack­ing at­tacks on his cam­paign.

Moscow strongly de­nied all al­le­ga­tions of med­dling in the French elec­tion that Macron won on May 7. Putin on Mon­day again poo-pooed the idea as un­founded press spec­u­la­tion.

But he also de­fended his

March meet­ing with Macron’s ri­val in the pres­i­den­tial race, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Putin de­scribed Le Pen as a politi­cian who wants to de­velop friendly ties with Rus­sia and said it would have been strange to re­buff her over­tures.

He said the meet­ing with Le Pen didn’t rep­re­sent an at­tempt to sway the race. Putin added that Rus­sia had been well-aware of opin­ion polls pre­dict­ing Macron’s vic­tory.

Macron said he was firm on other is­sues, too.

He said any use of chem­i­cal weapons in Syria — where Rus­sia is prop­ping up the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad — is a “red line” for France and would be met by “reprisals” and an “im­me­di­ate ri­poste” from France.

He did not spec­ify what form such reprisals could take, but

France flies war­planes over Syria and Iraq, strik­ing Is­lamic State tar­gets as part of an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion.

Macron por­trayed the meet­ing as just a first step in re­set­ting the coun­try’s re­la­tions with Rus­sia.

“Big things are built over time,” he said. “It was an ex­change that was ex­tremely frank, di­rect, with a lot of things that were said.”

“We have dis­agree­ments, but at least we talked about them,” he added.

The lead­ers’ first hand­shakes — rel­a­tively brief and cor­dial — af­ter Putin climbed out of his limou­sine at Ver­sailles were far less ma­cho than Macron’s now fa­mous who-will-blink-first hand­shake show­down with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump when the two lead­ers met for the first time last week.

AP PHOTO

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron (right) drives an elec­tric golf car with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in the gar­den of the Ver­sailles Palace fol­low­ing their meet­ing in Ver­sailles, near Paris, France, Mon­day.

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