President of France Nicolas Sarkozy (as translated into Russian): I am happy to welcome President Medvedev to the Elysee Palace for the first time. I welcome him as a friend. France believes that Russia is its strategic partner, a country that is a friend of France. I have repeatedly worked with President Medvedev and can tell you that I trust him. Yes, together we tried to resolve a complex, painful crisis, and we succeeded. He is a great friend of France's and has come to visit us today.
I want to say a few words about our conversation. Of course, I am speaking in the presence of Mr Medvedev and then he will speak. I think that we have very similar views on major issues.
Iran. President Medvedev has told me that he is ready to discuss the issue of sanctions provided, of course, that these sanctions do not result in a humanitarian catastrophe.
On the issue of a Middle East settlement, Russia and France will work together. We are convinced that doing nothing will result in disaster.
Regarding the G20, as you know France will take the chair, as in the G8 at the end of this year. Together with Mr Medvedev we will put forward an initiative on how to establish a new framework for a financial and monetary system.
As to climate, we worked together in Copenhagen, and worked in perfect harmony.
With regard to Nagorno Karabakh, Russia and France will jointly help Armenia and Azerbaijan work in tandem and better understand each other.
With regard to European security, we are convinced that we should adopt a different approach to this issue and not act as adversaries but as partners. I even said to President Medvedev that it is especially important that on such complex and sensitive issues as Ossetia, as the agreement we signed in August 2008 which was strictly applied, France and Russia will work together to find a solution to this problem. And Mr Medvedev concurred that he's ready to join efforts. With regard to bilateral issues, we signed three very important agreements.
I am happy to clarify that France favours the introduction of a visa-free regime between Russia and the European Union, and here I am speaking in the presence of Mr Pierre Lellouche [French Secretary of State for European Affairs] and Mr Eric Besson [French Immigration Minister]. As you know, I have already taken on this responsibility publicly, not privately. This is France's position. We want to move in the direction of a shared space with Russia, a common space.
Another very promising thing is the agreement signed with Alstom, as well as that between Gazprom and GDF SUEZ. I welcome their representatives here today.
As for the Mistral warships, we decided that today France and Russia will begin exclusive negotiations on four Mistral-class ships. The first will be built at the shipyards in Saint Nazaire. This does not mean that the others will not be built, but simply that we will negotiate.
You know, ours is a very open, very easy conversation. This does not mean that we agree entirely on all issues. Of course there are points of disagreement, but it is very easy to talk with President Medvedev. And I think that it is in the interests of Europe that we avoid returning to the difficult period of the Cold War. This is very important. In addition, I must say that I support Russia's efforts to modernise, work that was begun by Mr Medvedev.
I would also like to say to Mr Medvedev that we are happy to welcome him. This is a state visit. My wife Carla and I will be pleased to welcome you and your spouse tomorrow, Mr Medvedev. Thank you.
President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen, representatives of the media,
I would also like to say a few words, but I must start with condolences, sentiments that I have already expressed to Mr President, in connection with what happened and the loss of life caused by Hurricane Xynthia. We share your grief and, if necessary, are ready to provide assistance in the aftermath of this tragic event.
With regard to our meeting today, what President Sarkozy just said about relations between Russia and France was said succinctly and absolutely honestly, as he, my friend, President Sarkozy, usually does. We really do have a strategic relationship, and partner, comradely relations. And not just because we both want them this way, but rather because they reflect our sense of Europe, our sense of our mutual interests.
France is Russia's long-standing and reliable partner. We have a centuries-old relationship, but the most important thing is that recent problems of the twentieth century have been eliminated. We no longer have ideological differences. Yes, naturally we do not agree on everything, but there are no ideological boundaries between us. Everything we do is directed towards a single goal: creating a modern peaceful world in which human rights and the rule of law are respected. So it is very easy for us to talk to each other.
Today we discussed a number of problems. But in addition to what President Sarkozy said, I would add more about what really brings us together today, namely the state visit of the President of Russia. I would like to thank you for the invitation on my own behalf and on behalf of the entire Russian delegation. We did not simply choose to come here. The visit is taking place during the Year of Russia in France and the Year of France in Russia, and it is a symbol of this year. Tomorrow and throughout 2010 we will have a lot of instances when we can talk about cooperation in the cultural and educational spheres, about big cultural projects that will take place – tomorrow in the Louvre we will open an exhibition entitled Holy Russia. This is a very good, large-scale event, which fully reflects the depth of our historical common ground and interest in one another.
Very important events will take place in Russia as well — a total of about 400. This is a good symbol of our friendship.
Today we really are talking about various issues. My colleague just listed them. We talked about regional issues, about what we did last year. Now Mr President just mentioned Copenhagen, perhaps our least successful theme of last year. Because unfortunately the summit in Copenhagen was a fiasco. But this does not mean we're going to throw up our hands; on the contrary, we will continue to unite our efforts in order to address climate change problems, which today are affecting us all.
Three agreements have just been signed in this hall. In fact, more agreements were signed but we simply chose the most important ones; some other agreements were signed in a different place. This means that our countries are joined by very close, deep economic ties. Last year our economic interaction declined slightly in volume due to the fact that all of us were affected by the economic crisis, but in point of fact the nature of our interaction did not change.
I mentioned at our talks that in, say, terms of investment the French Republic is ahead of the United States of America. This means that we are on the right track and that we are developing large projects, namely indicators of economic growth. But it does not mean that we should ignore cooperation between small and medium-sized companies.
We talked about how we can cooperate in the international arena. This is also one of our big themes. I fully agree with the fact that our countries have established a strategic partnership and that we must capitalize on this in every possible way. And as countries that exist together on the European continent, there is still the question of European security. You know that Russia has put forward an initiative: we discussed this issue and agreed that we will continue to discuss the topic of European security in various formats.
I would like to thank President Sarkozy for what he said regarding a common cultural space and visa restrictions. We believe that partners – Russia and the European Union, France and Russia – must have full-fledged relations, and such relations would be unthinkable without the free exchange of goods, services and the free movement of people. Consequently the visa issue is extremely important.
The atmosphere of trust is also important. President Sarkozy began by saying that he trusts Russia. And these are important words. Trust must be present not only in economic relations but also in other instances. The question of Mistral warships that the President of France mentioned is just one such issue, one which has had a rather wide resonance and met with quite different reactions. But it is a symbol of trust, of trust between our two countries and also represents the possibility for Russia to acquire facilities that we are lacking today, and that we want to build up in cooperation with other countries. I therefore share the view that we have entered the stage of exclusive negotiations on this issue and hope that these negotiations result in success.
We discussed the Middle East, the Caucasus, Europe, and we talked about how we can build up our relations within the G20 forum. And President Sarkozy and I are very concerned about the issue of a new international financial architecture: what we have is not simply far from perfect; in fact we have not made serious progress in this matter. And despite the fact that the crisis has subsided somewhat, we must nevertheless do everything in our power to ensure that the contours of this financial architecture take shape in the near future. We have talked about this for more than a year now, but, unfortunately, we have not really moved forward. And the Bretton Woods agreements, no matter how well anyone might like them, no longer reflect the current economic situation. We agreed with the President that we will continue our cooperation in this field and perhaps even take some degree of initiative.
What I have said does not reflect the entirety of our negotiations. I am not going to talk about certain issues in order to maintain some kind of intrigue.
Question: I have a question for both presidents. Nicolas Sarkozy just said that Russia and France must act as partners when it comes to European security. In what could this partnership consist and what is France's fundamental position on the question of the security treaty and specific proposals made by Russia's President?
And a second question for Mr Sarkozy concerning the introduction of a visa-free regime. You said that you will personally oversee this process. When should we expect its completion?
Dmitry Medvedev: I will not say anything about the visa question for obvious reasons. This is not an issue for us – we are ready.
As to the issue of security in Europe, I think it is a critically important one. My colleague and I were just discussing what happened in August 2008. And I said: ”Nicolas, be aware that at that time these issues were not resolved via some international procedures, nor within the framework of relations between NATO and Russia. Rather, they were resolved by using the potential of the EU and the personal participation of the President of France, who at that time demonstrated courage and strength of will and, despite the fact that it was very volatile situation, came and helped us resolve this very difficult issue.“
What does this imply? That we must learn to deal with our European issues. How? By using existing procedures. Are we happy with the ones we have? I for one do not like them. Because the 1975 Helsinki Final Act on Security and Cooperation in Europe is, to be sure, a very important foundation for our cooperation, but it is not enough. Europe has changed, it has different players now, and we believe that we need to create a new framework in order to discuss security issues.
President Sarkozy and I have devoted a lot of time to this topic. I believe that we are at the beginning of the process. The initiative that Russia put forward is not a dogmatic one, we are ready to update it if we have adequate opportunities to discuss security problems. And the fact that such problems exist in Europe is clear to everyone. Just look at the ones that arose after the collapse of Yugoslavia or during the Caucasus crisis of 2008.
We are ready to work, and willing to work with France and with our other partners.
President of France Nicolas Sarkozy: With regard to a visa-free regime, France will do everything possible to persuade its partners to act on similar basis in regard to Russia. We will talk about France's official position and try to persuade our partners.
We talked about the decisions taken at Evian one and a half years ago. Mr Medvedev spoke of a new security architecture. Where are we now? France is back in NATO and an ally of the United States. But I told Mr Medvedev that Russia has nothing to fear from NATO. We are very devoted to our union and our relations.
With regard to viable security architecture, this is necessary for both the EU and Russia. We must see to what extent we are faced by common threats such as terrorism, and whether or not it is in our mutual interests to think about how in our present circumstances, in times of fiscal deficit and crisis, we might work together instead of working against each other. Perhaps this is what is expected of us? If this is not our goal, why did we ever end the Cold War?
The Cold War has ended. Now Russia is not our enemy, but rather our new partner. This is the history of our continent and we must alter certain trains of thought and stereotypes in people's minds. We must pay more attention to some of Russia's initiatives. I told Mr President that if we do not do everything necessary to ensure that there is mutual respect (I mean between NATO and Russia), then nothing positive will result from this.
We must work within the framework of mutual trust. And, incidentally, I talked about the Mistral ships in precisely this context. You know these are helicopter carriers which we will build for Russia, carriers without military equipment. I would like to know how we can say to Russia: ”We need you to support peace, we need your support to resolve crises and critical situations around the world, such as in Iran, but at the same time, we do not trust you and do not want to work with you on Mistral deal, for example?” This is absolutely unthinkable. It is impossible to say in the morning: ‘Mr Medvedev, I trust you, please vote for us in the Security Council.’ And then to say in the afternoon: ‘No, I'm sorry: we do not trust you, so we cannot deliver the Mistral.’ After all, there is no consistency in this position.
We really want to put an end to the Cold War era. You know, I listened to a lot of people who spoke and wrote about Mr Medvedev and my relationship during the Georgian crisis. I will not speak in detail about it, but I think that he defended Russia's interests in acting as he did. I think that France defended the interests of the EU. And indeed, we did the right thing by not using military force or threats, but rather diplomacy and dialogue. It was not easy, but we got to know each other better and have made steps forward.
After all, we share the same continent and have a common history. We must move on from the old era. I can tell you that with the help of Mr Medvedev regarding security architecture – incidentally, we want to join Germany and Ms Merkel to this discussion; Mr Medvedev has already discussed this issue with Ms Merkel – the three of us together will make a decision on this matter.
Question: Mr Medvedev, do you agree to toughen sanctions against Iran because, as you know, the Security Council is now talking about tightening sanctions?
Mr Sarkozy, do you agree with Mr Medvedev? Do you have a common point of view?
I'm sorry, but I would also like to ask a question about the Middle East. I know that a few months ago Moscow put forward the initiative to convene a conference on the Middle East. There are other initiatives that France mentioned. Where are we now in this process? Did we make any progress? What are your initiatives regarding the Middle East?
Dmitry Medvedev: First, regarding Iran, a difficult topic. Now almost all my talks with European and American colleagues lead at some point to Iran. Unfortunately, we have not moved forward lately and, on the contrary, the situation is deteriorating.
Unfortunately, our remonstrances of the Iranian leadership, our appeals to work towards a peaceful nuclear programme under the supervision of the international community have not yielded results.
We are optimists and we have not lost our belief in the possibility of success. However, if this fails, I have already said repeatedly that Russia is ready to consider sanctions together with our partners. These sanctions should be targeted and intelligent. They must not be directed against the civilian population. And they must only be implemented in extreme circumstances, the point at which dialogue is no longer possible. So the relevant initiatives are currently being discussed. We are ready to continue the discussion with our partners.
This is true even though it would naturally be desirable to avoid these sanctions.
Now regarding the Middle East. Indeed, we talked about this today. Recently, many things have happened and unfortunately none of them produced any major positive changes to the situation. You mentioned Russia's initiative – it was not made several months ago, it was a few years ago now. And generally we all agree that a conference on the Middle East must take place in Moscow. In this case we are willing to work on other proposals, ones which, incidentally, have been made by my colleague, including those that use other tools.
Over the past two months I have had a series of meetings with partners on this issue. I met with Mahmoud Abbas, welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and just recently met with President Sleiman of Lebanon. In the near future I will be meeting with the King of Jordan to talk about this issue. We are in the epicentre of the debate.
The main problem is that unfortunately the parties are not very good at listening to one another. Moreover, the hear-and-listen skills have diminished. At the moment, we are not even talking about resuming direct talks – it is about how to resume them at least through intermediaries.
But we need to act because the situation is deteriorating, not improving. And we must concentrate our efforts together with those of our partners. We are fully cooperating with the President of France in this regard, and discuss the issue on a regular basis.
I hope that soon we will be able to get the situation in the Middle East off the ground. We would very much like this.
Nicolas Sarkozy: With regard to the Middle East and Iran, Mr Medvedev spoke about smart and well-considered sanctions. I completely agree with him. We have very close positions and this is very important.
Question: A question to both presidents that partly follows on the question about Iran. The issue of non-proliferation is now being actively discussed throughout the world. Russia, as is well-known, is currently holding talks with the United States and, judging by the statements of both sides, quite far advanced in negotiations on a new START treaty. Mr Medvedev, a question: how do you evaluate this work and what are the prospects for its completion?
And a question for the President of France: how could France and other European countries contribute to non-proliferation in a global sense? Was this topic raised at today's talks? Thank you.
Nicolas Sarkozy: Let's listen to another question from the French side and then respond.
Question (as translated from Russian): Two clarifications: first, with regard to Mistral warships. Mr Sarkozy, you talked about the first ship to be built in Saint Nazaire. Does this mean that all others will be built in Russia?
Mr Medvedev, does the readmission agreement that was signed today cover the readmission of Chechens who are currently in France to Chechnya?
And a last question: how does France feel about the zero option for nuclear weapons which President Obama is currently defending and that Mr Medvedev has spoken a great deal about?
Nicolas Sarkozy: First of all, France is pleased that negotiations between Mr Medvedev and Mr Obama are taking place. All this is developing very positively. With regard to France, it led the way in pointing to the need to reduce nuclear arsenals. We now expect both Russia and the U.S. to reach a certain level, the one which we have already achieved. And when they're at that level with several hundred warheads, I will not specify any further, but we'll show them how to move to the next stage. Let’s just say that both countries are currently at the level of several thousand.
I am pleased to talk about this, because these two countries have come a long way and continue to move in a positive direction. And for the safety of the French, I will not abandon my positions: I would like to see all countries move in the same direction. I think that all responsible heads of states should do so as well. I will participate in the conference to be hosted by President Obama.
And I said that the first ship will be built at the shipyards in Saint Nazaire. We are currently negotiating the sale of four Mistral warships, and I think that if you are strong in math then you will understand which ships will be built here and which will be finished in Russia. Two plus two is, I think, a fairly equitable solution.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, I now know at what point we must involve France in our negotiations with the Americans. In all likelihood, this will happen when we already agree on the lower limit of our nuclear arsenal. But it is encouraging that our French partners are ready to participate in these negotiations. Because as an idea, Global Zero is a beautiful concept. But as you know, Global Zero can be achieved only as a result of consolidated work by all nuclear countries, and underpinned by our confidence that the nuclear club does not contain any free riders, those who got there without a ticket. We can not leave this matter unattended.
Regarding the current situation surrounding strategic offensive arms, I think the situation is not bad: we are close to reaching an agreement on almost all issues. Of course this is not easy but we've been moving very fast when compared to negotiations that took place during the era of rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States. At that time they took years. In fact, we have advanced to the final stage of negotiations and have already agreed on the details of the text; and we spent less than a year on this. I hope that in the very near future negotiations will be completed and a non-proliferation summit will be held in the United States, and that this too will make a contribution, introduce new thinking into this process.
In response to the question you asked about readmission, in my opinion this is a standard yet important agreement in bilateral relations between Russia and France, which contains all essential elements pertaining to the readmission procedures. It's not in any way directed against an ethnic group or certain individuals. It is about using equal conditions for the expulsion of people who are present in the territory of our countries without good reason, in accordance with procedures that we have agreed upon. It symbolizes no more and no less. But in my opinion it is nevertheless a very important document in light of what President Sarkozy said about the possibility of visa-free exchanges between Russia and EU countries, including the French Republic. And I hope that it is one of the elements of our progressive movement towards a visa-free regime. Thank you.