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French PM defends stance on Russia over Syria as lawmakers criticise
October 12, 2016 / 1:39 PM / 10 months ago

French PM defends stance on Russia over Syria as lawmakers criticise

French Minister of the Civil Service Annick Girardin (L) and Prime Minister Manuel Valls leave the Elysee Palace after a weekly cabinet meeting in Paris, France, September 22, 2016.Charles Platiau

PARIS (Reuters) - French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Wednesday dismissed criticism from opposition lawmakers of his government's handling of relations with Russia over Syria saying Moscow had an "obstructive" and "unjustifiable" stance on the crisis.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday cancelled a visit to Paris after President Francois Hollande said he would see him only for talks on Syria. That episode has deteriorated relations between Moscow and Paris, but also caused outrage among some conservative, far-left and far-right politicians in France.

In a heated debate during the weekly questions to the government, Communist lawmaker André Chassaigne criticised Hollande's decision to not welcome Putin for a long-planned visit to inaugurate a new Russian Orthodox cathedral and visit a Russian art exhibition in the French capital.

He argued that the government was ending dialogue with a key partner and actor in the conflict when instead it should be cutting ties with Saudi Arabia and forcing Turkey to not intervene in Syria.

"Russia has chosen an obstructive attitude and from our point of view this stance is unjustifiable," Valls responded.

"Without the massive support of Russia, the (Syrian) regime and Bashar al-Assad would not be able to carry out this battle on Aleppo. We call on Russia to assume its responsibilities as a major power," he said, adding that Paris was ready to host Putin if he was ready to talk about getting a truce in Aleppo.

French officials have been grappling for ways to put new pressure on Russia after Moscow vetoed a French-drafted United Nations Security Council resolution on Syria. Their growing anger over a Russian-backed Syrian government onslaught against rebel-held areas of the city of Aleppo had led them to reconsider whether to host Putin on Oct. 19.

Putin earlier on Wednesday accused France of deliberately luring Moscow into vetoing a United Nations resolution on Syria, and questioned whether Paris was doing the bidding of the United States.

Some French opposition lawmakers and politicians have over the last few days attacked the government saying it is doing the bidding of the United States and should not be entering into a Cold War with Russia.

Reporting By John Irish; editing by Leigh Thomas

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