Prague, 12 January 1998 (RFE/RL) - French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine met with Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov this morning in Moscow to discuss bilateral relations and preparations for Russian President Boris Yeltsin's planned visit to France.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Primakov expressed satisfaction that France and Russia were "very close" on a number of foreign policy issues. On domestic matters, Primakov noted that Vedrine "understood exactly what was going on inside Russia." He welcomed Vedrine's comments on the "benefits" of greater government control in the transition to a market economy.
While Vedrine's talks today focused primarily on Yeltsin's planned visit to Paris January 28 and 29 -- his first state visit abroad since falling ill in Kazakhstan two months ago -- the two sides also were expected to discuss Iraq, Kosovo and Russian economic issues.
On foreign policy, France and Russia -- both permanent members of the UN Security Council -- have voiced opposition to what they consider to be unilateral U.S. decision-making. That was particularly the case regarding last month's U.S. and British air strikes on Iraq.
In an interview published today in Izvestiya, Vedrine underscored France's divergence from U.S. and British policy toward Iraq. He said France's overall aim was to return a peaceful Iraq to coexistence with its neighbors. Specifically, Vedrine said that UNSCOM (the United Nations Special Commission for disarming Iraq) has now exhausted its potential for verifying Iraq's compliance with UN demands for the destruction of its weapons of mass destruction.
Instead, he said the world community must devise a new control mechanism to guarantee Iraq's compliance with the appropriate UN resolutions. At the same time, he said, the oil embargo which is crippling the Iraqi economy and punishing innocent Iraqis must be lifted. He did not give details of the proposed control mechanism, but advocated a general strengthening of collective UN Security Council authority on the issue of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Moscow political commentator Andrey Piontkovsky sees nothing surprising in the stated "closeness" of French and Russian foreign policy. Piontkovsky, head of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow, spoke today with RFE/RL:
"It is no coincidence that French and Russian views on foreign policy frequently coincide. Some observers refer to the 'De Gaulleian' quality of Russian foreign policy...," he said.
Piontkovsky says the policy is the product of a dramatic loss in world power status coupled with a determination not to be dictated to by the U.S.
"The Russian political establishment has taken it badly-- the transition from being a foreign policy superpower in the first division to the status of a regional power. France suffered a similar fate at the end of World War Two," he says.
In the Izvestiya interview, Vedrine also spoke about Kosovo, saying that Paris was determined to find a broad-based political solution to the crisis in the Serbian province. Vedrine denied that France was engaged in a pro-Serb policy. Rather, he characterized French policy in the region as pro-Yugoslav and pro-peace.
Primakov welcomed Vedrine's statement in today's Izvestiya that the strengthening of the Russian government's role in ensuring a socially oriented economic policy mirrored social democratic policy in the European Union. Vedrine also stressed the continuity of Franco-Russian trade relations even during the worst months of Russia's current financial crisis.