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French, German, Russian Leaders to Discuss Iran Nuclear Issues


The leaders of France, Russia and Germany are meeting in Paris Saturday for talks expected to focus on Iran's nuclear ambitions and the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Paris Friday for a private dinner with his French host, Jacques Chirac. Their meeting outside Paris Saturday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to focus on Iran.

All three countries are involved in efforts to get Tehran to abandon its nuclear program, which they fear may be aimed at building a bomb.

World powers agreed Tuesday to allow more time for talks, instead of threatening sanctions against Iran at the United Nations Security Council. And on Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Serge Lavrov expressed hope that Iran would return to the negotiating table.

The leaders are also expected to talk about a number of energy issues, including Russian gas and oil supplies to Europe. About 30 percent of Europe's gas comes from Russia, and a temporary cutoff of Russian supplies last January, over a price dispute with Ukraine, caused
concern in Europe.

But Katinka Barysch, an energy expert at the Center for European Reform, in London, says there are other problems when it comes to Russian gas.

"What the Europeans are concerned about - and should be concerned about - is that Russia, in the future, might not produce enough gas to both supply the gas we need in Western Europe, and satisfy fast-growing Asian markets that Russia is now focusing on," she said.

The Europeans also are concerned about Russian threats to revoke licenses for the French oil company Total, and environmental permits for Royal Dutch Shell, which are both operating in Russia.

Europe's aerospace industry is another subject of contention. Some experts believe Mr. Putin wants to secure veto powers for a state-owned Russian bank that is part of the European aerospace group EADS. The French government and EADS opposed this.

Still, Anton Koslov, a Russia expert at Paris Sud 11 University, says the Europeans should not be surprised at Russian efforts to wield more clout in Europe.

"It may certainly worry Chirac and Merkel, in terms of Western European security, because the Russians are now going to basically be shareholders in Western defense companies," he noted. "But again, if we're talking about integration - trying to bring Russia and Europe together - if we no longer consider Russia an inherent enemy, then there is nothing really wrong about that."

One thing is certain, the three leaders will have plenty to talk about during their meeting in France.

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