French President to Meet Russian Leader a Day Ahead of Trump


PARIS — The French soccer team’s win in the World Cup semifinals this past week handed France’s president an unexpected opportunity to meet the Russian president face to face at a moment of tension between the Continent and the United States.

When the Blues — the French team’s name — won on Tuesday, Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, called his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, to congratulate him and invite him to the final match on Sunday. That happens to be just a day before a high-profile meeting in Finland between Mr. Putin and President Trump.

Mr. Macron appears to have recognized the chance to use the trip not only to support his country’s team, but also to press the European Union’s position with the Russian president on several topics important to Russia as well. It comes after European allies and other NATO members met this past week in Brussels with Mr. Trump, whose provocations during the meeting — rather than the substantive policies embraced — tended to dominate news media coverage.

The presidential palace said Saturday that Mr. Macron would discuss Ukraine policy, Iran and Syria with Mr. Putin, all subjects that the two have discussed before and on which the French and European Union position differs considerably from that of the United States.

Mr. Macron will meet formally with Mr. Putin at the Kremlin for an hour in the late afternoon shortly before the final match with Croatia gets underway. It is less than two months since Mr. Macron last met one-on-one with Mr. Putin, which Mr. Macron described as a reassertion of both France’s commitment to multilateralism and independence.

When it comes to both Iran and Syria policy, Mr. Putin and Mr. Macron are likely to find considerable common ground.

France and the European Union are closer to Russia’s position on Iran than to that of the United States, and the French and Germans have spoken forcefully about their opposition to President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear accord and force other countries to do so as well.

The European Union has been trying to find a way to get around the United States’ renewal of the sanctions. Russia, which has close economic and military ties with Iran, also supported the nuclear deal.

On Ukraine, the European Union is a strong proponent of compelling Russia’s military to leave eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and has consistently supported sanctions to pressure the Russians to do so.

In contrast, Mr. Trump — although not his administration — has repeatedly said he is considering recognizing Crimea as a part of Russia and has refused to reaffirm the United States’ position during the Obama administration of opposition to Russia’s intervention.

On Syria, Mr. Macron has indicated — as have others at Élysée Palace — that the two countries share many ideas. In his meeting with Mr. Putin in May, the two leaders agreed that France would play a coordinating role in the work of the Astana group, which includes Russia, Iran and Turkey, and that of the so-called small group, which includes Germany, the United States, Britain and Jordan. The groups are focused on different aspects of remaking the country’s political fabric and ending its long and exceptionally bloody civil war.

There seems to be little appetite these days on the part of the French — or the Americans — for forcing out Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, despite his military’s use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Yet despite a somewhat shared view of the need for Syria to find a political solution, Europeans, not least the French, have been very upset that Russia has not forced Syria to allow humanitarian aid to reach civilians in anti-Syrian government areas.

The Middle East was often a focus of the flurry of Russian diplomacy, some fortuitous, that has occurred on the periphery of the World Cup, as foreign leaders turned up to watch matches and efforts at a boycott mostly fell through.

After the poisoning in Britain in March of a former Russian double agent and his daughter, nine governments said their officials would boycott the Russian-hosted soccer championship. Of those, two were from countries whose teams did not qualify, and a third, Sweden, boycotted only the opening ceremony. Members of the British Parliament turned up to watch a semifinal match.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel visited Wednesday for talks with Mr. Putin and to watch Croatia defeat England in the semifinals after besting Russia in the quarterfinals.

Also on Wednesday, an Iranian delegation with Ali Akbar Velayati, a former Iranian presidential candidate and foreign minister, and Asghar Fathi Sarbangoli, chairman of the supreme leader’s board of advisers, met with Mr. Putin at the Russian president’s country residence of Novo-Agaryovo.

On Thursday, a Russian deputy foreign minister met with Saudi Arabia’s minister of information, Avad bin Salih al-Avad. Russia’s special envoy for Middle Eastern affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov, met with the Syrian ambassador to Russia.

The Palestinian Authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas, met with Mr. Putin on Friday. Earlier, Jordan’s minister of foreign affairs, Ayman Safadi, met his Russian counterpart, Sergei V. Lavrov, on July 4.

Andrew Higgins contributed reporting from Moscow.

Source : Nytimes