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Hollande To Ask Putin To Join Grand Coalition Against ISIS


French President Francois Hollande meets with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow today. It's the latest in a round of face-to-face meetings Hollande is holding with world leaders in hopes of boosting international efforts against ISIS. Joining us to look ahead at the Hollande and Putin meeting are NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow and NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Good morning to both of you.


COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And, Eleanor, first to you. President Hollande's Moscow visit comes after sit downs with the leaders of Great Britain, the U.S., Germany and Italy. How have those meetings gone so far?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Renee, very well. Everyone committed to helping France. Britain's David Cameron - prime minister - said he would seek his Parliament's approval to bomb ISIS in Syria as well as Iraq. President Obama, on Tuesday, said that the U.S. would intensify strikes and also have a more fluid sharing of intelligence with the French. And Angela Merkel personally promised that Germany will send up to 600 more troops to Mali, which will help free up French forces and resources there. She also spoke of a 10 billion euro fund to help secure borders on the EU.

MONTAGNE: OK, so France's allies are behind him - behind Hollande. What does he hope to get out of this meeting with Putin, which might be a bit more difficult?

BEARDSLEY: That's right because the French and Russian positions on Syria differed until now with what to do with President Bashar al-Assad. Now France wants to convince Putin that the Russian Air Force should only strike ISIS, not any other opposition group. France has put Assad on the back burner. He is going to try to convince Putin that ISIS is the only enemy. Now, Obama is still talking about getting rid of Assad. So France knows that he will not bring the Russians and Americans together. France is somewhere in between, but he wants Russia to bomb only ISIS.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's a tall order because up until now, President Putin has been really backing President Assad of Syria and not particularly interested in bombing ISIS. Is there a chance that that could happen? I mean, what's the relationship between these two men?

BEARDSLEY: Well, French officials are saying there is a chance because Russia is also very affected by a terrorist attack on an airliner that killed hundreds of citizens by ISIS. So Hollande is going to focus on ISIS is our common enemy. Hollande and Putin have a relation of confidence. They don't always agree, but they're able to speak frankly with each other. Now, they've met with each other eight times. This is because of the Ukraine crisis. And they've had up to 35 phone conversations. Officials say that the two leaders use the familiar form of you with each other, so they feel very comfortable with each other. Russia and France are both very shaken from these recent attacks, so French officials are saying that Moscow could be convinced to come around and only bomb ISIS. And they're seeing that this is already happening because Russia has struck ISIS now a few times.

MONTAGNE: And let's bring in NPR's Corey Flintoff. You're there also with us from Moscow. And let's get the viewpoint from Russia. What does Vladimir Putin need out of this very moment? What would bring him into some kind of coalition with NATO countries?

FLINTOFF: Well, he needs to maintain this perception that Russia and France are on their way to becoming allies in Syria. And, you know, that's the narrative that Russia's state-controlled media has been promoting, that the Paris attacks have made France see that the threat of Islamist terrorism is more important than any differences that France might have with Russia, you know, over Ukraine or other issues. It doesn't seem likely, though, that Russia would be joining a coalition with NATO countries unless NATO's willing to agree that Bashar al-Assad should remain in power.

MONTAGNE: And, Corey, how is this meeting complicated by this week's downing of that Russian fighter jet by NATO member Turkey? - because Russia is still very, very angry about this.

FLINTOFF: Absolutely. Russia's in this very bitter confrontation with Turkey now. And some Russian politicians have indirectly blamed NATO for the downing of that plane. So the question is will Hollande now feel less able to cooperate with Russia or to reduce his opposition to President Assad? You know, as long as Hollande doesn't know what Putin might do to retaliate against Turkey, he might have to be a lot more careful about what kinds of commitments he makes with Russia.

BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, Corey, here in Paris, officials are aware of exactly those complications. That's why Hollande is going to be stressing coordination of attacks against ISIS, not some big coalition to fight ISIS.

MONTAGNE: And that's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris, Corey Flintoff speaking to us from Moscow. Thank you very much for joining us.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Renee.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.