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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In a First, Chirac Visits Top-Secret Titov Center

APChirac speaking at a news conference at the Titov space control center Saturday.
French President Jacques Chirac became the first Western leader to visit the top-secret Titov space control center, touring the site Saturday as part of Russian efforts to court the lucrative European satellite-launching business.

The center, which operates under tight security, is the control point for all of Russia's satellites, including its military satellites.

After greeting Chirac, President Vladimir Putin handed over the floor to the center's chief, Lieutenant General Nikolai Kolesnikov, to outline its work and future plans.

The space center, located in the city of Krasnoznamensk outside Moscow, also is involved in launches of Russia's intercontinental ballistic missiles and is working on a plan that would improve the use of space satellites for defensive early warning systems.

"All our efforts to ensure our security are not aggressive and are not targeted against anyone," Putin said after talks with Chirac.

He said his decision to invite Chirac to the site should "point to Russia's transparency and openness in security matters."

There was also a clear commercial desire, with Putin emphasizing Russia's "vast space exploration potential."

Russia's space program has worked closely with the European Space Agency in recent years, launching ESA satellites and carrying ESA astronauts on research missions to the international space station.

In February, the ESA reached an agreement with Russia to launch Russian Soyuz rockets from France's Kourou launch pad in French Guyana. The launches are expected to begin in about three years.

France-based aircraft maker Airbus also signed a deal last year with Russia's Sokol, which will produce fuselage parts for Airbus A320 planes, Interfax reported.

Later, the fight against terrorism topped the agenda of one-on-one talks between the two leaders. Putin called on the international community to develop a joint system for eliminating terrorism, Interfax reported. Chirac called for efforts to remove "the fertile ground in which terrorism develops. This includes unresolved conflicts, misery, famine, poverty and the humiliation which people are justified in feeling."

Other topics on the agenda included the situation in Iraq, the continuing violence in the Middle East, Kosovo, and the European Union's expansion next month. "France views relations between the European Union and Russia as an essential element, essential for Russia, essential for Europe and even more importantly, essential for the balance and stability of tomorrow's world," Chirac said.

Meanwhile, Chirac said Putin accepted his invitation to participate in this year's 60th anniversary commemorations of the D-Day invasion in France.

"This invitation is completely logical as the very turning points in World War Two took place in Moscow, Kursk and Stalingrad," Chirac said.

(AP, Reuters)