Iran, Kosovo hangs over Sarkozy meeting with Putin

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PARIS, Oct 7 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Tuesday holds his first bilateral summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin in Moscow, where their shared pragmatism might help them do business despite sharp diplomatic differences.

Their reputation for straight talking could stand them in good stead when they discuss energy and industrial cooperation as well as policy splits over Iran's nuclear plans and the fate of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo.

''The visit is even more important for Russia because in the past few months France has accelerated its foreign policy activities,'' Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.

''Russia and France have to discuss a number of major issues.

On some of them our positions are close or coincide, but it's no secret there are issues to which we have different approaches.'' Paris favours independence for Kosovo while Moscow backs Serbia's rejection of statehood for the ethnic Albanian majority territory.

''We are ready to accept any alternative solution as long as it has the agreement of the parties,'' Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon said of Kosovo on Friday.

On Iran's disputed nuclear programme, Paris and Berlin signalled on Friday the European Union could punish the Islamic republic for pressing ahead with its nuclear programme before the world's top powers agree on further sanctions at the United Nations.

Iran denies any plans to build an atomic bomb and Moscow wants new sanctions to remain on hold until a report by an EU negotiator and a UN inspectors survey of Tehran's activities.

DOING BUSINESS Martinon played down differences on Friday, saying on Iran that ''initial misunderstandings have given way progressively to a convergent analysis of these threats in general.'' Human rights could be a fly in the ointment, however, France having been critical over Russia's troubled Chechnya province and the murder a year ago of prominent Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya.

But Paris will have curried some favour in Moscow by opposing Georgian membership of NATO if it would antagonise neighbouring Russia. Georgia has fraught relations with its former Soviet master.

Russia is also looking for French support in its bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Russia's has been trying to join since the mid-1990s but talks have been complicated by its troubled relations with a European Union wary about the security of its energy supplies from resource-rich Russia.

The Kremlin has taken back control of almost all big energy projects in the past few years, squeezing the stakes of several foreign majors, though France's Total in July won a role in the first phase of the giant Shtokman gas project.

France also hopes for a European role in Russia's revival of its teetering aerospace industry but its leaders were rattled by last year's sudden purchase of a 5 percent stake in Airbus parent EADS by Russian state bank VTB.

It was a sensitive purchase given that EADS produces France's nuclear deterrent and that Russia announced in August it had resumed strategic bomber patrols towards the West.


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