French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that France will respond immediately to any use of chemical weapons in Syria, while urging a closer partnership with Russia in fighting the Islamic State (IS) in the country.

“A very clear red line exists on our side – that is the use of chemical weapons by whomever,” Macron said at a joint news conference after his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, The Guardian reported on Monday.

The highly symbolic meeting in the sumptuous setting of the Palace of Versailles was aimed at defining the two leaders’ personal relationship after tension and mistrust during the French presidential election campaign and suggestions Russia had sought to meddle in the French democratic process.

Emerging with Putin from two hours of talks and lunch in the 2,300-room palace, Macron said he wanted to strengthen cooperation with Russia in seeking a solution to the Syria conflict. He said this involved talking to all parties in a “diplomatic and political framework”.

But Macron said France would show “no weakness” if chemical weapons were used, and would immediately respond.

French spies amassed and publicly released evidence last month that indicated the Assad regime had used toxic sarin gas on the town of Khan Sheikhun, an attack that provoked the US to launch missiles on a Syrian air base in its first targeted attack against the Syrian president’s forces.

Macron said he favoured a democratic transition in Syria that would “preserve the Syrian state”. He said: “Failed states in the region are a threat to our democracies, and we have seen each time they have enabled terrorist groups to advance.”

“Our absolute priority is the fight against terrorism,” he added, calling for the “eradication of terrorist groups” – and Isis in particular – through closer partnership with Russia.

First Published | 30 May 2017 6:52 AM
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