French President Emmanuel Macron has told Russian leader Vladimir Putin that Europe remains committed to its security and defense alliance with the United States despite recent disagreements over trade, the Iran nuclear deal, and other issues.
Speaking at a business forum in St. Petersburg on May 25, Macron described his relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump as strong and said he had a duty to work with the American leader even if there are "issues on which we have differences."
Macron said he would try to persuade Trump to return to talks about Iran's nuclear programme, and also criticized Trump's decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move opposed by Palestinians, most European governments, and many U.S. allies in the Middle East.
Macron also told Putin that European Union sanctions on Russia would not be lifted unless there was progress on Ukraine.
"The ball is in the camp of Russia and Ukraine. It's as simple as that,” Macron said.
“We won't lift the sanctions if nothing's done. That's what we discussed with Vladimir Putin," Macron told reporters after his meeting with the Russian president.
Macron added that EU leaders will meet in July to consider extending the sanctions slapped on Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and has backed separatists in a bloody war in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Despite the differences, Putin welcomed Macron has an honored guest at the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, seen as an opportunity for him to woo the French leader with closer business ties.
Economic relations between the two countries "are developing despite all the current complications," Putin said before a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with Macron on May 24.
France has the biggest foreign delegation at the forum, with 170 representatives from 60 French companies, the French Embassy in Moscow said. In all, forum organizers said the event has drawn officials from 1,400 foreign companies and 70 countries.
Putin said Russian trade with France grew by 25 percent last year and has continued at that pace this year.
While Putin's meeting with Macron focused on broad issues such as the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and efforts to preserve the Iran nuclear deal, it culminated with the signing of a major deal granting French energy giant Total an increased role in Russia's Arctic gas projects.
The Russian deal comes days after Total announced that it will exit its major gas project in Iran unless it can obtain an exemption from U.S. sanctions that Washington announced would be reimposed on Tehran this year.
'Problems Are Arising'
Putin criticized the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying American leaders should not change international agreements after each presidential election.
"We are ready for dialogue with Trump," Putin said during the forum. "[But] for now, it's not working out. Many problems are arising."
Putin also said on the sidelines of the forum that he would "comply" with the constitution and not serve more than two consecutive presidential terms.
"I am going to comply with the rule in the future," Putin told reporters.
Putin, 65, has been president or prime minister since 1999. Facing the limit of two straight terms in 2008, he steered ally Dmitry Medvedev into the presidency and served for four years as prime minister before returning to the Kremlin in 2012.
There has been speculation about Putin's future moves, with many analysts predicting he will seek a way to keep a hold on power after his current term. The most straightforward path would be to change the constitution.