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Leaders from France, Germany, Russia Meet Near Paris


Russian President Vladimir Putin says his country is ready to send a small group of construction engineers to Lebanon to help with reconstruction. He spoke at the end of a meeting with the leaders of France and Germany that focused largely on energy issues.

Much of Saturday's summit, at a chateau outside Paris, was devoted to energy and aerospace matters. Security of energy supplies from Russia is a top European priority after a pricing dispute between Russia and Ukraine last January temporarily halted Russian gas bound for Europe.

Friday night, Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to allay French fears on another energy question, saying suggestions that France's Total oil group could lose its license in Western Siberia were "greatly exaggerated."

During a joint news conference with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel Saturday, the Russian leader downplayed another potential source of friction, Russia's possible role in the European aerospace company, EADS.

Russia's VTB state bank recently purchased a five percent stake in EADS, but Mr. Putin told reporters the move was not an aggressive action.

President Putin said Russia had no intention of changing the policies of the European aerospace group. And, he said, France, Germany and Russia would form a working group to study a Russian role in EADS.

The three leaders also focused on Middle East hot spots, including Lebanon. Mr. Putin said he was ready to send Russian engineers to Lebanon to help with reconstruction, if all parties agreed.

During the news conference, French President Jacques Chirac said he could not confirm a report in a regional French newspaper Saturday citing an allegedly leaked intelligence document suggesting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden may have died of typhoid in Pakistan.

President Chirac expressed surprise that such a note could have been published, and said he had no comment on it.

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