French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Monday that there would be an “immediate response” to any use of chemical weapons in Syria, after holding his first face-to-face talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Speaking at a tense press conference in Versailles alongside Mr Putin, Mr Macron said they had a “frank exchange”, which covered contentious issues like the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s alleged election meddling.
“A very clear red line exists: the use of the chemical weapons, whoever does it,” Mr Macron said after his two-hour meeting with Mr Putin. “Any use of the chemical weapons will be followed by an immediate response, at least on behalf of France.”
Russia provides vital military backing for embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is accused of using chemical weapons against rebels. Mr Macron, who supposed the rebels, recently said Mr Assad’s could face a war crimes tribunal.
France also takes a tough line on European Union sanctions on Moscow, first imposed when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Mr Macron said he would support new sanctions if there is escalation in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where he’s condemned Russia’s role as an “invasion.”
Nonetheless, Mr Macron called for improved ties, and the two leaders agreed to work together to fight terrorism in Syria. “I want us to win the fight against terrorists in Syria and build together lasting political stability. We have laid the ground for that work together today,” he said, before the two leaders jointly inaugurated an exhibition marking 300 years since Russian czar Peter the Great visited France in 1717.
Mr Macron said he addressed LGBT rights in Russia, and the rights of embattled NGOs, and vowed that he would stay “constantly vigilant” on these issues.