Macron holds 'frank exchange' talks with Putin

Macron holds 'frank exchange' talks with Putin

As Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived at the Versailles Palace on Monday to meet Emmanuel Macron, the recently elected leader of France, all eyes were on the handshake.

With Putin alongside him, Macron repeated the accusation in a reply to a journalist's question, saying: "During the campaign, Russia Today and Sputnik were agents of influence which on several occasions spread fake news about me personally and my campaign".

But at a joint news conference after their talks, ill-feeling came to the surface over past allegations made by Macron's camp that state-funded Russian news outlets had sought to destabilise his campaign. "They are influence operations", Macron said, as Putin shifted uneasily from side to side. Putin had supported Macron's opponent, Marine Le Pen, and received the nationalist at the Kremlin during her campaign.

France's youngest ever president made a successful debut on the world stage last week, holding his own against Trump at a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation summit in Brussels and winning plaudits from his peers at a G7 summit in Italy.

Any use of chemical weapons in Syria is a "red line" for France and would be met by "reprisals" and an "immediate riposte" from the government, Macron said.

Despite the denials of Syria and its backers Russian Federation and Iran, the US, France and others have said that evidence indicates the Syrian regime was behind the deadly April 4 chemical weapons assault. The two countries are in stark opposition over the Syrian civil war, with Moscow backing Assad and France supporting rebel groups trying to overthrow him. The Russian president did not respond directly to Macron's implicit challenge.

Meeting Vladimir Putin has often served as an unofficial litmus test for the newly-appointed leaders of democratic countries.

Versailles was chosen for the Macron-Putin meeting because an exhibition dedicated to Tsar Peter the Great is opening there.

Their first meeting since Macron took office provided another test of the Frenchman's diplomatic skills after his memorable first encounter last week with US President Donald Trump that Macron sealed with a vice-like handshake.

Macron said he was firm on other issues, too.

Putin, 64, cancelled his last planned visit in October after Hollande accused Russian Federation of war crimes in Syria and refused to roll out the red carpet for him.

Relations between the European Union and Russian Federation have been fraught since Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Responding to a question about sanctions against Russian Federation over Ukraine, Putin answered, "These sanctions do not contribute at all to settling the crisis in Ukraine". "Let's fight for all the restrictions in the global economy to be scrapped".

Despite the sometimes tough tone of the news conference, Macron received Putin with all the usual formalities: When Putin opened the door of his black limousine in the vast Versailles courtyard, as the formally dressed French Republican guard - in gold-braid decorated uniforms - stood at attention, Macron came down the red carpet to the vehicle to greet him.

"As for me, I will be constantly vigilant on these issues, which are in keeping with our values", Mr Macron said. Macron said this of his "frank" exchange with Putin: "We have disagreements, but at least we talked about them".

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