Iran General NewsAs Sarkozy and Putin meet, Iran quickly comes between...

As Sarkozy and Putin meet, Iran quickly comes between them

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New York Times: The first meeting of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France quickly brought out their split views on Iran, with Mr. Putin expressing doubt that it was trying to build nuclear weapons. The New York Times

By SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY
Published: October 11, 2007

MOSCOW, Oct. 10 — The first meeting of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France quickly brought out their split views on Iran, with Mr. Putin expressing doubt that it was trying to build nuclear weapons.

Mr. Sarkozy came to Moscow urging tougher economic pressure on Tehran, but Mr. Putin quickly dampened the idea. At a joint appearance on Wednesday, Mr. Putin said: “We don’t have information showing that Iran is striving to produce nuclear weapons. That’s why we’re proceeding on the basis that Iran does not have such plans.”

That conflicts with the views of the United States and much of Western Europe, a division that will come up again this week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Moscow.

Mr. Putin, who will attend a regional meeting of nations in Tehran next week, said he wanted Iran to fully disclose its nuclear activities. “We share the concerns of our partners that all of Iran’s programs be made absolutely transparent,” he said.

Russia has been building a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, in southern Iran, a project that has been plagued by delays. The United States and many European countries worry that Iran intends to apply the technology to build nuclear weapons.

Mr. Sarkozy acknowledged that he and Mr. Putin perhaps “do not have quite the same analysis of the situation” in Iran.

France argues for aggressive multilateral action to impose sanctions as the best way to avoid military action by — or against — the Iranians. But the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, told Russian news agencies that it would be irresponsible to take sudden action on Iran before the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog in Vienna completes negotiations with Tehran on disclosures about its nuclear program.

In their public appearances, Mr. Putin and Mr. Sarkozy were polite if not always warm.

Mr. Sarkozy addressed his close relationship with the United States at Bauman Moscow State Technical University, Russia’s oldest engineering school. Answering a question in a packed hall on whether he agrees with the idea of a multipolar world, he said his friendship with America should not be misinterpreted.

“I am a friend of the United States,” he said. “A friend does not mean a vassal.”

The two leaders both spoke of the aerospace industry as a key area of Russian economic cooperation. Russia has invested in the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company.

Mr. Sarkozy did not repeat his recent charges of Russian “brutality” in its relations with smaller countries on energy supplies, stressing instead the need for transparency and reciprocal investments, which he said could even include private French investment in Gazprom, the state-controlled Russian natural gas monopoly that much of Western Europe depends on.

But Mr. Sarkozy did not omit criticisms of Russia.

At the university he said that a free press was “essential to a free society.” France was sharply critical of the Russian government and the curtailing of press freedoms in Russia after the killing one year ago of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who wrote critically of the Kremlin’s role in Chechnya.

Sophia Kishkovsky reported from Moscow and Graham Bowley from New York.

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