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France, Russia discuss Syria, Mali

March 1, 2013 at 2:54 PM

MOSCOW, March 1 (UPI) -- France and Russia, despite their differences, want "the preservation of Syria as single democratic state," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

French President Francois Hollande met with Putin Thursday in Russia, discussing, among other things, the situation in Syria, which is approaching the 2-year mark in its civil war that began as protests against President Bashar Assad.

"Despite current nuances in the positions of Russia and France, we stand for the preservation of Syria as a single democratic state and we have a lot in common in our principles, in assessing this situation," Putin said during a news conference after the meeting.

France favors a Syria without Assad but Russia insists that only the Syrians should decide their destiny.

Putin also warned against "international terrorists" who are exploiting the Syrian conflict, Voice of Russia reported.

"It is unacceptable for radical groups and international terrorists to exploit the Syrian tragedy for their own ends," Putin said.

Both leaders said economic cooperation between the countries has been enhanced with joint ventures and cooperative arrangements that emphasize innovation and high technology.

Putin said Russia backs France's efforts to restore constitutional order in Mali, Voice of Russia said. France has supplied ground and air support to government troops in the fight against Islamic militants, who claimed the northern portion of the former French colony and has pressed south.

"We back the efforts taken by France to restore constitutional and democratic order in the country," Putin said.

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