France wants stake in Russia gas giant-Sarkozy

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MOSCOW, Oct 10 (Reuters) French President Nicolas Sarkozy said today that French investors wanted to take a stake in Russia's Gazprom gas giant, supplier of a quarter of Europe's gas.

Speaking after talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sarkozy said he and Putin had narrowed their differences on Iran's nuclear programme, but gave no specifics. France and other Western powers suspect Iran of trying to build a nuclear bomb.

France wants a new round of United Nations sanctions on Tehran, something Russia has resisted. Underlining the differences remaining, Putin said today there was no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons programme.

Sarkozy said France would allow Russian investors access to major French assets, seeking to ease Moscow's concerns that its investors suffer discrimination when they try to make big acquisitions in Western Europe.

''France's policy is transparency and reciprocity,'' Sarkozy told reporters at a joint news conference in the Kremlin with Putin after a second session of talks between the two leaders.

''Transparency because it's a market, reciprocity because it's quite normal that our Russian friends should want to enter the capital of a certain number of French companies and that the opposite should be true as well.'' ''I have told President Putin of the readiness of French investors to enter the capital of big Russian companies, for example Gazprom,'' he added, pointing out that Russia had invested in European aerospace group EADS.

Sarkozy confirmed that he would meet representatives of human rights group Memorial today, a pointed reminder of European concerns about Russia's right record.

But Putin said he saw ''nothing remarkable'' about the French president meeting Russian rights activists. Memorial is best known for campaigning against abuses by Russian security forces in the Chechnya region.

Sarkozy's first visit to Russia as president is one of his trickiest foreign trips to date.

But there were signs Sarkozy had struck up a friendly personal relationship with Putin. He addressed the Russian leader in the familiar ''tu'' form in opening remarks at their meeting in the Kremlin on Wednesday.

REUTERS PD PM1640

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