MOSCOW, May 25. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, who is on a two-day official visit to Russia, met at St. Petersburg’s Constantine Palace on Thursday to discuss bilateral relations and global issues, including the situation in Syria and Ukraine and Iran’s nuclear deal.
"We are countries that have a special status of a United Nations Security Council permanent member, we also have deep historical ties, as well as ties in the international policy area," Macron said. "That said, I believe that we can find solutions and work together on all the issues, be it Ukraine, the Middle East, Iran or Syria."
The talks lasted about four hours instead of two. Vladimir Putin described the talks as "quite useful," adding that they were "held in an business-like and open atmosphere." The French president said the meeting was "extremely direct and frank" and also "very fruitful."
During Macron’s visit, Russia and France signed a series of agreements worth about 1 billion euro in total, Chief Executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriyev said.
The future of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear program after Washington’s unilateral withdrawal was among the main issues up for discussion. The Russian and French leaders reiterated their support for the international agreement.
"Our position - the position of Russia - is well known. We believe the deal must be preserved," Putin told reporters after the talks.
He reiterated that he had met earlier with the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and it was confirmed at the meeting that Iran was complying with all its commitments under the JCPOA.
"We welcome the intention of not only France, but of the whole united Europe, to keep this deal. We understand that it won’t be easy to do so," Putin said, adding that termination of the deal may have "deplorable" consequences.
Macron confirmed the commitment of France and other European nations to preserving the JCPOA, but said that the nuclear deal should be complemented with framework agreements on the future of the country’s nuclear program after 2025, as well as on the Islamic Republic’s missile program and regional activities.
The French leader said he already started discussing those issues with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
According to Putin, Russia does not object to negotiations with Tehran on the above-mentioned issues, but such talks should not put the JCPOA in danger.
Speaking about Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal, which took a decade to be finalized, Macron described the approach as "not serious."
He also said that companies from France and other European countries should be given an opportunity to "keep their economic profit, despite the US sanctions, and maintain their economic presence in Iran."
"Europe should have a stronger economic sovereignty," Macron said, commenting on US sanctions against Iran. "France envisages a compensation for French companies acting within the framework of treaties signed by France. Other mechanisms to protect the interests of companies are being discussed."
The Russian president, in his turn, reiterated that Moscow consistently opposed all kinds of unilateral sanctions, which it views as illegitimate and detrimental to the global economy. At the same time, he noted that practical mechanisms to counter unilateral US sanctions were not discussed during his meeting with Macron.
The Russian and French leaders also paid close attention to Syrian reconciliation tasks and "agreed that further assistance to the long-term political settlement is required."
In this regard, the Russian president noted the efficiency of the Astana format, which "produces significant results."
"We are also ready for contacts with the so-called Small Group [comprising the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and coordinating its work with Turkey and Germany]," the Russian leader added. "Naturally, we assume that the principle of respecting sovereignty must be observed."
Putin identified as a priority task establishing a committee on a constitutional reform in Syria, that should operate under the UN aegis in Geneva.
Macron expressed his support for a broad dialogue involving the Syrian government, members of the Astana Group and the Small Group, as well as "insurgent forces of the democratic opposition" and "all regional powers interested in stability."
"We need to prepare a post-war situation in Syria when peace finally reigns in the country. This is our goal. We are seeking to shape an inclusive approach that allows reaching stability in the region. I believe that we share this approach to the issue with the Russian president," Macron said.
"We want to move toward creating a new constitution, which enables an inclusive political process in Syria," he said. "This is what Russia has been talking about and I agree with it. I think that this approach is correct, because it allows to lay down certain rules."
Putin and Macron also addressed the issue of Ukrainian settlement and agreed that there was no alternative to the Minsk agreements.
When asked about prospects for a Normandy Four summit, the Russian leader replied that the peace process in Donbass makes little progress, while the incumbent Kiev government demonstrates little interest in settling the conflict.
"I’m deeply convinced that the incumbent Kiev government is not seeking settlement, due to new domestic political developments in the country, related to the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections [to take place next year]," Putin said.
However, he added that there was no alternative to the Minsk talks and the Normandy format, comprising Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine.
"Russia is ready to support it [the Normandy format], we are ready to meet at all levels, but, naturally, each one of those meetings should be well-prepared, and should end on a positive note," he said.
Macron added that the Ukrainian conflict settlement was "a key prerequisite for the return of calm relations between Russia and Europe."
"We are all interested in this." he said. "I told president Putin that the coming months will be crucial if we want to put an end to this conflict."
"Next week, a meeting of technical groups will take place, followed by a meeting of the Normandy Four foreign ministers," Macron went on. "I wish we could achieve practical progress on the issue."
The two leaders also addressed the issue of cyberspace, which, according to Putin, has become a "vital sphere of life, affecting millions of people."
The Russian president called for accepting common international rules and standards for cyberspace activities and control.
"For every action, there is a reaction," he said. "In order to prevent undesirable reactions, we should agree on rules for those actions, on a code of conduct for this or that domain."
"When humanity designed nuclear weapons, atomic bombs, the world realized the danger and agreed on rules to prevent the tragedy," he continued. "By now, it has become obvious that the cyberspace is a vital sphere of life, affecting millions of people. Let’s agree on how we are going to work with it."
Other humanitarian issues were also raised at the talks, Macron said.
"We talked about human rights during our meeting, and touched upon many issues, including the case of [Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg] Sentsov and [Russian stage director Kirill] Serebrennikov," he said.
"Those two issues are very sensitive for France, because the French cultural establishment is very concerned by them," he said. "I hope that we will be able to have a dialogue on the issue."
Answering to a French reporter’s question on the issue, Putin replied that Sentsov "was detained for plotting terrorist attacks, not for his activities as a journalist."
"I’m extremely surprised by the fact that you, a French journalist, do not ask questions about restrictions for Russian journalists in Ukraine," the Russian leader said.
"Quite recently, your colleague, a Russian journalist, was charged with high treason for his public stance and for his activities as a journalist," Putin continued. "For some reason, you are not concerned about his fate. This is weird."
Putin and Macron will have a joint working agenda on Friday within the framework of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, which the French president is attending as a guest of honor.
"We will meet with Russian and French businessmen, talk to members of the Trianon Dialogue coordination council and make speeches during the forum’s plenary session," Putin said.