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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France and Russia Set Up a Security Council

The foreign ministers of France and Russia announced the formation of a joint security council Monday and put up a united front on two key international issues -- the Middle East conflict and the future of Iraq -- highlighting clear policy differences with the United States.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, who just completed a tour of the Middle East, met just days ahead of a visit to Russia by French President Jacques Chirac. Chirac is due to meet with President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on July 19-20.

The new Russian-French security cooperation council envisages regular meetings of the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries -- the first to take place this fall in Paris. "Today's negotiations allow us to take stock ... of the whole range of our bilateral relations and examine international problems," Ivanov told reporters after signing the security council agreement.

The two foreign ministers also stressed their common approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq -- highlighting clear policy differences with Washington.

Villepin said while France had much in common with U.S. President George W. Bush's new Middle East policy, including the need to fight terrorism and reform the Palestinian Authority, he said France would continue to deal with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

"As far as Mr. Arafat is concerned, we think he's the representative, he was elected. The Palestinian people should make the decision about who should represent this people," Villepin said.

Ivanov also called Arafat the "legal representative of the Palestinian people" and said talks should continue with both him and the Israeli government. Bush recently outlined a new policy on the Middle East that included a call for a new Palestinian leadership.

Both Villepin and Ivanov also backed the idea of an international Middle East conference to inject new life into the peace process, which has foundered following months of Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli incursions into Palestinian towns on the West Bank.

On Iraq, Ivanov refused to speculate on possible U.S. military intervention to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but said Russia favors more negotiation.