Putin certain Assad not using gas in war


France's President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sought to improve their countries' strained ties on Monday during talks at Versailles palace the French leader described as "extremely frank". Macron vowed to be "constantly vigilant on these issues".

"When press outlets spread defamatory untruths, they are no longer journalists, they are organs of influence", Macron said.

"I will not give an inch on this", he said.

Calling for "a democratic transition that preserves the Syrian state", he warned that "failed states" in the Middle East emboldened terror groups and posed a threat to the West.

Monday's visit came seven months after the Russian leader cancelled a trip to Paris amid a row over Syria with Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande, who had said Russia's bombing of Aleppo could amount to war crimes.

But he also launched an extraordinary attack on two Russian media outlets he accused of spreading "lying propaganda".

Moscow strongly denied all allegations of meddling in the French election that Macron won on May 7.

Mr Putin on Monday again dismissed the idea as unfounded press speculation.

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But he also defended his March meeting with Macron's rival in the presidential race, far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at United Kingdom think tank Chatham House, told VICE News that Macron's approach was likely informed by evidence presented to him in security briefings confirming that the Russians did indeed attempt to sway the outcome of the election.

Macron said any use of chemical weapons in Syria - where Russian Federation is propping up the government of President Bashar Assad - is a "red line" for France and would be met by "reprisals" and an "immediate riposte" from France.

"It is unclear as to whether [Trump] learns lessons from others, and it is unclear as to whether he himself is compromised or not - personally, financially or in other ways [in relation to Russia]", Nixey said.

He did not specify the form of such reprisals, but France flies warplanes over Syria and Iraq, striking Islamic State group targets as part of an worldwide coalition.

During the press conference after their meeting, Macron was clear that he was not willing to waver on any of his campaign promises about holding Russian Federation to account.

"Big things are built over time", he said.

Amnesty International France vice president Cecile Coudriou says "it's important that Mr. Putin is ready to hear, we hope, strong words coming from Mr. Macron, to say "stop" to that homophobia which has lasted for too long".