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France, Russia discuss Syria, sidestep differences on chemical weapons
July 6, 2017 / 8:49 PM / a month ago

France, Russia discuss Syria, sidestep differences on chemical weapons

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows damaged buildings in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Deraa, Syria June 22, 2017.Alaa Al-Faqir/File photo

PARIS (Reuters) - France and Russia agreed on Thursday that fighting terrorism in Syria was their common objective, but pointedly avoided airing their differences over the sensitive issue of chemical weapons.

France appears to be broadly aligning its foreign policy with the U.S. priorities of tackling terrorism while seeking better ties with Russia and avoiding a head-on clash with Moscow over Syria.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who held six hours of talks primarily on Syria with Russian officials in Moscow two weeks ago, continued his push for closer co-operation, when he met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov again in Paris on Thursday.

With the two countries previously publicly at odds over the issue of chemical weapons, Le Drian now hopes to convince Russia to enforce a 2013 Security Council resolution to prevent their use in Syria.

He also wants to win concessions from Russia to improve the humanitarian situation in a country where hundreds of thousands are besieged and millions displaced after six years of civil war.

Le Drian has not said what incentives Paris could offer Russia in return beyond closer security cooperation.

"Terrorism is our number one enemy and to fight it we have to put everything else aside," Lavrov, whose country supports the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, said in a joint statement.

Le Drian echoed those comments saying terrorism was their common enemy.

Standing alongside Lavrov, he said that France, which has backed opposition groups fighting Assad, had set a red line on the use of chemical weapons in the country.

He shied away from criticising Russia.

"We are both opposed to the use of chemical weapons and what's at stake is to be able to dismantle the regime's chemical weapons' stocks," Le Drian said, refusing to take questions from reporters.

Lavrov himself made no mention of chemical weapons.

French intelligence agencies have accused Assad's government of carrying out a chemical weapons attack in April, something that both Syrian and Russian officials have dismissed.

Paris said on Friday that findings by a fact-finding mission of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that showed sarin or a sarin-like substance had been used proved this.

Russia said the report was based on doubtful evidence.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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