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Putin Meeting With French, German, Spanish Leaders


The leaders of France, Russia, Germany and Spain are meeting in Paris for talks expected to focus on ways to draw Moscow closer to the European Union.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was the first to arrive in Paris for talks with French President Jacques Chirac. Mr. Putin met with Russian authors in the late morning at the Elysee Presidential Palace. Russia is being feted this year at the celebrated Paris book fair, which opened Thursday.

Mr. Putin and President Chirac met later in the day with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

All four leaders staunchly opposed the war in Iraq, which created bitter divisions among European countries and across the Atlantic with the United States.

But Friday, the divisions are healing and emphasis is being placed on other international issues. They include European and American concerns about Russia's record on human rights and democracy. President George W. Bush raised some of these concerns when he met with Mr. Putin last month.

The four leaders are meeting ahead of a EU-Russian summit scheduled for May. They are expected to discuss the standoff with Iran on its alleged nuclear program.

But French, German and Spanish leaders are not expected to deliver harsh criticism when they meet with Mr. Putin. Rather they are expected to simply encourage the Russian leader to pursue reforms at home.

Anton Koslov is a Russian expert at the University of Paris XI. He believes the Europeans want to use their careful treatment of Russia as a counterpoint to Washington.

"I think the Europeans are trying to find some kind of balance," Mr. Koslov said. "Now the situation in Iraq is going the American way, Europe, particularly France and Germany, wants to find some kind of balance of power."

Still, Mr. Koslov believes it will be impossible for the European leaders not to address human rights and other concerns during their meeting with Mr. Putin Friday night.

"Definitely Russian democracy depends on how stable the legal system and constitutional system is in Russia," he said. "That is something to talk about. And definitely Putin must provide guarantees that the system will remain stable. And I'm sure Putin will pay lip service to that."

The EU and Russia also found themselves on opposite sides of Ukraine's bitterly contested election, with European's backing the country's newly elected, pro-west leader, Viktor Yushchenko. Mr. Putin heads for Ukraine Saturday, for his first visit there since the Ukrainian president took office.

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