France says EU considering sanctions against Russia

European Union leaders are considering imposing sanctions against Russia ahead of a summit on Monday to discuss the situation in Georgia, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said on Thursday.

Asked at a news conference in Paris about measures that could be taken over Moscow’s refusal to pull back troops in Georgia, Kouchner said: ”Sanctions are being considered and many other means as well”.

The comments were immediately dismissed by Kouchner’s Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who said they were the product of a ”sick imagination”.

”I think it is a demonstration of complete confusion,” he told reporters at a meeting in Tajikistan.

France, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, has called a meeting of EU heads of government on Monday to discuss the Georgian crisis that blew up this month over the Russian-backed separatist enclave of South Ossetia.

”We are trying to elaborate a strong text that will show our determination not to accept [what is happening in Georgia],” Koucher said. ”Of course, there are also sanctions.”

”I don’t want to talk about sanctions myself ahead of time, when the meeting itself has not taken place. But we are working with our 26 partners at this moment,” Kouchner added.

He was careful to stress that France itself was not among the countries pressing for sanctions. ”I am not proposing them,” he said. ”I say they will certainly be suggested. Certain countries have already asked that sanctions be imposed.”

‘We need time’
French President Nicolas Sarkozy flew to Moscow and Tbilisi to hammer out a six-point ceasefire deal and France has taken a softer line than other European countries such as Britain.

But it has been increasingly frustrated by what it sees as Moscow’s failure to meet the conditions of the plan.

Moscow says it is complying with the ceasefire, but it has yet to pull back its troops as agreed. It has also recognised two breakaway regions of Georgia as independent states even though the plan calls for international talks on security arrangements there.

Sarkozy, who spoke with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday, has insisted Russian forces that have not yet pulled back to their positions before fighting broke out must do so immediately.

But Kouchner said Paris would remain patient.

”France is not in favour of cutting relations with Russia. This will be solved by negotiation. We need time, we’re under no illusion about that,” he said, adding that France needed Russia’s cooperation on issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme. – Reuters

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