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Putin, Chirac Meet In France

(file photo) 18 March 2005 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac in Paris before informal talks with leaders of Germany and Spain aimed at bolstering relations between Russia and the EU.

Chirac greeted the Russian president at the Elysee Palace, where they met Russian writers taking part in the annual Paris book fair.

Putin noted what he said was Russia's contribution to the French language and culture.

"I think Russia has made quite a serious contribution to the development [to increasing the appreciation] of the French language, to the development of the French culture, to promoting and popularizing the French culture for a long period of time, meaning that from the end of the 17th century, for almost 150 years, essentially the whole Russian elite was bilingual, speaking French just as well as their native language, Russian -- perhaps even better sometimes," Putin said.

Later, Putin will have a tour of a French defense center for air operations in Taverny, north of Paris.

He and Chirac will then meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero for the first such meeting between the four leaders.

A range of potentially sensitive issues are likely to be discussed during the talks, including democratic reforms in Russia, the situation in Chechnya, and Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.