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Between France And Russia, Presidents Seek Common Ground In Syria


Happy Thanksgiving. French President Francois Hollande is in Russia today talking with Vladimir Putin. They're discussing Syria, and they disagree. For one, today Putin reiterated his support for Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad while Hollande insisted he should go. Hollande went to Moscow to seek better coordination against ISIS. That group claimed responsibility for the attacks in Paris this month. NPR's Corey Flintoff is in Moscow following the talks.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: They really seem to be looking for common ground. Hollande said it's necessary for them to take the lead in order to intensify their actions against terrorism. One significant thing he did say was that terrorism has a name. It's Daesh. It's the Islamic State. It's one of the goals of his visit to get Putin to fight the Islamic State. Russia went into Syria basically to support President Bashar al-Assad. And the Western allies have said Russia's really done very little against ISIS. For his part, Putin said Russia's open to stronger cooperation, and he supports Frances's effort to build a strong anti-terror coalition.

SHAPIRO: Is there anything more that Hollande wants out of this meeting than just getting Russia to focus more on ISIS?

FLINTOFF: Well, according to his own administration, Hollande does have several other priorities here. And other ones are for Putin to use his influence with Assad to get him to stop targeting civilians and to help start actual peace talks with the opposition.

SHAPIRO: Trying to draw the lines of who is fighting with and against whom in this becomes a lot more complicated when we look at the fact that just this week, Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near or on the Syrian border. How has that affected these talks?

FLINTOFF: Well, it's made them a lot more difficult. I mean, Russia's now in the middle of a fierce confrontation with Turkey. And that's one of France's NATO allies. Putin is looking for ways to punish Turkey for shooting down that plane. Just today, Russia announced several kinds of retaliation that includes shutting off Russian tourism to Turkey - that's billions of dollar's worth of revenue - banning the import of all kinds of Turkish products, things like fruits and vegetables, even arresting some Turkish businessmen here in Russia. So it seems that it would be really difficult for Hollande to enter into extensive cooperation with Russia when he doesn't know what Russia may do to one of his allies. One thing Hollande can do and one thing his administration said he wants to do is to help keep this conflict between Russia and Turkey from escalating.

SHAPIRO: This meeting between the French and Russian leaders comes just after President Hollande was in Washington, D.C., meeting with President Obama at the White House. That meeting produced some really specific, explicit promises to cooperate. How would you compare this meeting today in Russia?

FLINTOFF: Well, this meeting seems a lot more difficult than the one in Washington and because of that shoot down. You know, at that point, Hollande said the United States and Russia should join forces. And his words specifically were to fight this terrorist army in a broad single coalition. Well, now his office in Paris says he's aiming for getting the two sides to coordinate their actions. And that actually seems like a more realistic goal given the tensions between the two sides.

SHAPIRO: Just to further underscore how global this problem is, the main thing that soured the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, between the European Union and Russia, is actually not Syria. It's the conflict in Ukraine. And that is still hanging out there in the middle of all of this conversation. What impact is that having on all of this talk?

FLINTOFF: Well, you know, some French politicians have said that the European Union should drop those sanctions against Russia so everybody can join together in this fight against the Islamic State. But we're hearing from French officials that Hollande hasn't changed his stance. He's - he's still saying that sanctions shouldn't be lifted until the Minsk agreement has been implemented. That's the peace agreement for Eastern Ukraine. Right now, it's a long way from fully taking effect. So that's another point of contention that could undermine the sort of harmony that the two leaders tried to sound today.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Thanks, Corey.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.