Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron was the first Western leader to meet with Russian President Vladmir Putin since the Group of Seven (G7) summit in Sicily over the weekend, where relations with Russia were on the agenda.
The two leaders discussed the relationship between their nations, the situation in Syria, LGBT rights in Chechnya among other issues for three hours on Monday in the Palace of Versailles. The meeting took place on the 300th anniversary of Russian Tsar Peter the Great's visit to Versailles.
The talks were intense at times, but Putin said Franco-Russian ties withstood "all points of friction" during the meeting. Macron agreed, adding, "we disagree on a number of things but at least we discussed them."
Macron on Russian media
At the news conference, held in the Versailles Palace Gallery of Great Battles, which celebrates 14 centuries of French military successes, Macron took a swipe at two Russian media outlets whose reporters he banned from his campaign headquarters during the presidential race.
Macron said the two organizations spread "untruths about me and my campaign" during the French election.
"I will not give an inch on this," he said. "Russia Today and Sputnik ... behaved as organs of influence, of propaganda, of lying propaganda."
Putin was widely seen as supporting National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who lost in the second round of the election to Macron. Putin dismissed claims that Russian hackers infiltrated Macron's campaign as unsubstantiated.
"Maybe they were Russian hackers, maybe they were not," said Putin.
Putin said that his meeting with Le Pen in Moscow shortly before the first round of the election did not mean he was trying to influence the outcome of election. He said on Monday he saw nothing wrong with Moscow agreeing to meet foreign politicians who sought good relations with Russia. "That doesn't mean that we tried to influence the results of the election. Besides, that is almost impossible," Putin said on Monday.
Together against terrorism
Macron, whose nation has supported removing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, said he would work with Putin to determine the best course of action in the country. Putin, who supports al-Assad, said he believed the stability of the Syrian state was crucial to combatting terrorism.
"Our absolute priority is the fight against terrorism and the eradication of terrorist groups and Daesh in particular," said Macron using an alternate name for the so-called Islamic State (IS), which has claimed responsibility for multiple terrorist attacks in France.
Any use of chemical weapons in Syria is a "red line" for France and would be met by "reprisals" and an "immediate riposte" from the government, Macron said. While he did not say what form the reprisals would take, France is part of the anti-IS coalition and flies warplanes over both Syria and Iraq.
Both leaders agreed they did not want Syria to collapse into a failed state. Progress in Syria "will happen by a joint effort, which today we laid the foundations for," Macron said.
New talks on Ukraine
Macron and Putin agreed that they needed a new round of talks on the violence in eastern Ukraine. Macron wanted to bring about a "Normandy format" of talks, which would include French, Russian, Ukrainian and German leaders.
Putin said the talks should take place "in days or weeks." Putin said that sanctions placed on Russia over its acts in Ukraine were "in no way" helping stabilize the situation.
Relations between the European Union and Russia have been fraught since Moscow's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent insurgency in eastern Ukraine. France was one the main proponents of sanctions that have significantly damaged trade between the EU and Russia.
LGBT rights in Chechnya
Macron also brought up the issue of LGBT rights in Chechnya, saying he would be "constantly vigilant on these issues."
"President Putin told me … he had undertaken several initiatives on the subject of LGBT people in Chechnya with measures aimed at establishing the whole truth about the activities of local authorities," said Macron.
Chechen officials have been accused of arresting and torturing at least 100 gay men in the region.
kbd/jm (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)