Eyeing Syria conflict, France courts Russia after previous tough ties

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - France’s Foreign Minister pushed for closer co-operation with Russia on Tuesday, especially over Syria, and said relations could be driven by a renewed “spirit of trust”.

Relations between Paris and Moscow were increasingly strained under former President Francois Hollande especially over Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its role in bombing rebels in Aleppo. France also took a tough line on European Union sanctions on Russia, first imposed when it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“We are facing the same threat of terrorism which we are determined to battle,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters at a news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

“We are neither looking to isolate Russia from the rest of Europe nor weaken it economically. We want to work together in a pragmatic and concrete way to resolve the problems that impact us as much as Russia,” said Le Drian, who was defense minister under Hollande for five years.

New President Emmanuel Macron has said that dialogue with Russia is vital in tackling a number of international disputes, In May, he welcomed Russian leader Vladimir Putin with great pomp to the royal palace of Versailles.

Dangling economic potential between the two, Le Drian emphasized that France remained one of the leading direct investors in Russia, that its firms had not abandoned the country despite EU sanctions and that there were extremely strong cultural and tourism ties.

He hailed the quality of his relationship with Lavrov and said that he believed there was now a foundation to enter concrete talks, especially on Syria.

“Perhaps the spirit of trust to understand each other better was missing,” Le Drian said. “After today’s meetings we can continue the spirit of trust.”

Writing by John Irish