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Hollande Says He’s Narrowed Differences With Putin Over Syria

Feb. 28 (Bloomberg) -- French President Francois Hollande said he’s narrowed differences over Syria with Vladimir Putin, even though the Russian leader insisted on referring to Bashar al-Assad’s regime as the legitimate government of the country.

“We have progressed,” Hollande said today at a press conference in Moscow after meeting Putin. “We share the same objective, which is to prevent the breakup of the country and not allow terrorists to profit from the chaos.”

Syrian rebels have been trying to force Assad from power since March 2011. The conflict has killed about 70,000 people, according to United Nations estimates, and created almost 1 million refugees.

Earlier today, Hollande told a Russian radio station that he hoped for a “political solution” within weeks to the two-year conflict in Syria. He said there can be no “convergence of views” with Assad staying in power.

Responding to a question on why the French are backing rebels in Syria and fighting rebels in Mali, Putin said in both cases Russia backs the “legitimate” governments.

“We have to improvise a dialogue that part of the opposition can join,” Hollande said. “My responsibility is to find a political settlement.”

Russia hasn’t ceased its arms exports to Syria’s government during the conflict and has blocked United Nations sanctions against the regime. It also rejects opposition demands for the Syrian leader’s resignation before any transition talks.

Soviet Ties

Russia, which has Soviet-era ties with Syria, is seeking a leading role as a mediator. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia is willing to host Syria peace talks.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Feb. 26 Syrian rebels should be given aid if Assad refuses to join talks and goes on killing his own people. Kerry announced today in Rome that the U.S. will start supplying non-lethal aid to rebels.

France is complying with Europe’s arm embargo against Syria, Hollande said. Other nations will be sending arms to rebels “if we don’t find a political solution,” he said.

Hollande, making his first visit to Russia since his election last year, said he also discussed Iran with Putin, with both saying they are opposed to nuclear proliferation.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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