Macron warns against chemical arms in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Versailles, near Paris yesterday. Mr Macron will use an exhibition on Peter the Great at the palace to try to get bilateral ties off to a new start.
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) with Russian President Vladimir Putin at Versailles, near Paris yesterday. Mr Macron will use an exhibition on Peter the Great at the palace to try to get bilateral ties off to a new start.PHOTO: REUTERS

He vows reprisals if such weapons are used, as new French leader meets Putin for talks

VERSAILLES • The use of chemical weapons in Syria is a red line for France and would result in reprisals, Mr Emmanuel Macron has said during his first meeting as President of France with his Russian counterpart, Mr Vladimir Putin.

"Any use of chemical weapons would result in reprisals and an immediate riposte, at least where France is concerned," he said at a joint news conference with Mr Putin in which he added his aim was the fight against terrorism in Syria.

The two leaders met near Paris after last month's presidential election campaign in which Mr Macron's team accused Russian media of trying to interfere.

The French President yesterday said he had a frank exchange of views with Mr Putin, and that the two had aired their disagreements on a number of subjects.

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Nevertheless, bilateral relations have been beset by mistrust, with Paris and Moscow backing opposing sides in the Syrian civil war and at odds over the conflict in Ukraine.

Fresh from talks with his Western counterparts at a Nato meeting in Brussels and a Group of Seven summit in Sicily, Mr Macron was hosting the Russian President at the sumptuous 17th century palace of Versailles outside Paris yesterday.

STANDING FIRM

Any use of chemical weapons would result in reprisals and an immediate riposte, at least where France is concerned.

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON

  • Trump handshake a 'moment of truth'

  • PARIS • France's new President Emmanuel Macron said he was ready for his "moment of truth" with US counterpart Donald Trump when they shook hands for the first time.

    "You have to show you won't make little concessions, even symbolic ones," Mr Macron, 39, told the French weekly Journal du Dimanche on Sunday.

    Footage of the handshake as the pair met for lunch at the US Embassy in Brussels ahead of a Nato summit last Thursday has gone viral.

    As cameras rolled, Mr Macron held on tight to Mr Trump's notorious power grip as the two men sat next to each other, the Frenchman's mouth clenched and eyes firmly fixed at the 70-year-old tycoon's squinty stare.

    After some five seconds, Mr Trump was the first to open his hand, but Mr Macron insisted on being the last to let go.

    "It is ... a moment of truth," said Mr Macron, who became France's youngest president just three weeks ago. "I don't miss a thing, that is how you get respect."

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Amid the baroque splendour, Mr Macron will use an exhibition on Russian Czar Peter the Great at the former royal palace to try to get Franco-Russian relations off to a new start.

The 39-year-old French leader and Mr Putin exchanged a cordial, business-like handshake and smiles when the latter stepped from his limousine for a red carpet welcome, with Mr Macron appearing to say "welcome" to him in French.

The two men then entered the palace to start their talks.

Relations between Paris and Moscow became increasingly strained under former president Francois Hollande.

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

While Moscow backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, France supports rebel groups trying to overthrow him.

Then during the French election campaign, the Macron camp alleged Russian hacking and disinformation efforts, at one point refusing accreditation to the Russian state-funded Sputnik and RT news outlets, which it said were spreading Russian propaganda and fake news.

Two days before the May 7 election run-off, Mr Macron's team said thousands of hacked campaign e-mails had been put online in a leak that one New York-based analyst said could have come from a group tied to Russian military intelligence.

Moscow and RT rejected allegations of meddling in the election.

Mr Putin also offered Mr Macron's far-right opponent, Ms Marine Le Pen, a publicity coup when he granted her an audience a month before the election's first round.

Nonetheless, Russia's Ambassador to France, Mr Alexander Orlov, said yesterday that he expected this first meeting between the two men to be full of "smiles" and marking the beginning of "a very good and long relationship".

Mr Orlov, speaking on Europe 1 radio, said he believed that Mr Macron was "much more flexible" on the Syrian question, though he did not say why he thought this.

Mr Putin would certainly invite Mr Macron to pay a visit to Moscow, he said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'Macron warns against chemical arms in Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe