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Sarkozy to propose new bond with Russia

Posted by smeddum on October 3, 2010

New York Times

1st October, 2010

PARIS — President Nicolas Sarkozy of France plans to propose a new security and economic relationship between Europe and Russia when he meets with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany this month in Deauville, senior French officials said Friday.

The idea is to have a single zone of security and economic cooperation, the officials said, that will pull Russia closer to Europe but apart from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The alliance itself is holding a key meeting in November intended to approve a new strategic doctrine, and American officials are unhappy with the idea of France and Germany talking to Russia — without the United States present — about security in advance of the talks.

“Since when, I wonder, is European security no longer an issue of American concern, but something for Europe and Russia to resolve?” asked a senior American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “After being at the center of European security for 70 years, it’s strange to hear that it is no longer a matter of U.S. concern.”

Still, NATO’s relevance is in question as it struggles to hold together in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Russia seems to many to be a natural part of Europe and an important, if difficult, ally on issues like Iran and global terrorism.

France is taking over the presidency of the Group of 20 in November, which will also be a topic at the meetings in Deauville Oct. 18-19. Mr. Sarkozy is planning a series of initiatives to turn the group from a body concerned primarily with crisis management to one focused more on long-term coordination among major economic powers.

To that end, he has been consulting with Chinese officials for more than a year about the thorny issue of exchange rates and his ambitious idea for a new global monetary system, including a new institution to better coordinate movements in major currencies.

The idea of a new European “security architecture” has been raised by Mr. Medvedev as something more appropriate for the post-cold-war world than the Atlantic alliance and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

American officials have been skeptical, saying that they will agree to nothing that would dilute the alliance or the organization, but instead seek to pull Russia into closer cooperation with NATO.

But Mr. Sarkozy has argued in the past that Russia is now a partner of the West, not a threat to it, and must be treated as such. For those reasons he has defended the sale to Russia of French Mistral ships, which can carry tanks and helicopters, despite concerns from Georgia and the Baltic nations that Russia could use them to expand its zone of influence.

The Mistral is only one part of a much broader charm offensive with Russia by France, intended to win more business from its oil- and gas-rich neighbor to the east.

The two countries are currently engaged in a “France-Russia year,” a giant mutual marketing exercise comprising 400 cultural events and a flurry of high-level political visits.

Mr. Sarkozy is known for raising large ideas that do not always come to fruition, with a recent example being the Union for the Mediterranean, a project for cooperation among countries rimming the Mediterranean.

He is facing severe political problems at home, with low approval ratings, lingering scandals and a series of protests over his plans to raise the minimum retirement age. He is looking to the presidency of the Group of 20 and that of the smaller Group of 8 beginning in January to raise his international profile and improve his standing at home as a world leader ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

As the head of the Group of 20, Mr. Sarkozy intends to ask individual heads of state to run a series of working seminars on critical issues, leading to a summit meeting at the end of his one-year term. Two of these issues are how to provide more stability both to exchange rates and to commodity prices.

The seminars would be held in different countries. Mr. Sarkozy has often spoken of the need for a new Bretton Woods, the 1944 conference that set up a system of fixed exchange rates.

He speaks now of coordination, not fixed rates, and of bringing China more fully into the international system, with responsibilities to match its new stature. 

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