Autumn thaw in Russian-French ties and Trump-Rouhani backstage talks likely

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The 2+2 meeting between the Russian and French top diplomats and defense chiefs was held in Moscow for the first time in several years. Although some experts call it purely ceremonial, in the future this communication channel can help iron out a number of problems in relations with Europe.

These contacts were frozen in 2014 because of the crisis in Ukraine. Efforts aimed at fostering dialogue with Moscow are being made on instructions from French President Emmanuel Macron, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. He warned that the dialogue would be demanding and would take into account both countries’ interests.

For his part, Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov called on the Europeans to create a security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic region “together with Russia, and not as a counterbalance to Russia.”

The revival of 2+2 contacts is an important symbolic step, but, at the same time, they have a major pragmatic value, Sergei Fedorov, a leading researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe, told the paper. According to the political commentator, a communication channel like this one is important for coordinating positions on major issues between Moscow and Paris.

“This is a vital aspect, given the tense relations between our countries,” the expert said. He noted that Russia and France could cooperate more closely on the Ukrainian issue, arms control and the Iran nuclear deal. “We do have substantial disagreements, but we can overcome some crises, if France has a realistic stance at the talks,” he stressed.

Macron is currently the most suitable interlocutor for Russia in the EU, given the imminent completion of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure and Macron’s desire to appear as Europe’s political leader, even along the eastern front, the paper quotes Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), as saying.

Trump and Rouhani ready for backstage negotiations

US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani could meet face to face on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in late September. However, officials in Washington say that it depends on Iran’s supreme leader whether or not the talks will take place.

Washington’s European allies back the idea of an American-Iranian summit. French President Emmanuel Macron earlier highlighted the need to arrange the potential US-Iranian presidential talks. Paris, just like some other European capitals, wants to make sure that Tehran is allowed to sell certain volumes of oil in exchange for a series of commitments.

The news of the upcoming encounter has triggered Israeli concerns, particularly among its security establishment, the Haaretz newspaper writes. According to insiders, Trump has become less inclined to listen to the most hawkish anti-Iranian individual in his administration, that is, White House National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“It is difficult to say what will happen by the end of September. However, it is Trump’s unpredictability that has remained unchanged,” Yulia Sveshnikova, Research Fellow at the Higher School of Economics, told the paper. “There are two diametrically opposite viewpoints on that score in Iran.

The first is a conspiracy theory, asserting that Trump allegedly has some very complicated plan for Iran. The second one claims that Trump doesn’t really understand what he is doing,” she explained.

The expert cast doubt on claims that someone in Tehran could want to arrange a meeting with the US president. Any hints at backstage talks between Trump and Rouhani would cause an uproar in the Iranian establishment, Sveshnikova went on to say.

“Washington disapproves of Macron’s credit incentive plan for Iran. So, what could the two discuss at their face-to-face meeting? Iran’s stance is as follows: when the US returns to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), then it will be possible to discuss something else. It is one thing to agree to scale back [the country’s] nuclear program, which was not aimed at obtaining nuclear weapons. Another thing is to abandon your influence and missile capacity. Iran will not agree to do that,” she stressed. TASS

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