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French defence minister in Moscow for anti-IS cooperation talks




French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian flew in to Moscow on Monday for a meeting with his Russian counterpart to request an increase in strikes against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

Talks will also touch on how the two countries can share intelligence relating to the jihadist group, Le Drian told journalists before travelling to Russia.

“We will discuss what we consider to be terrorist groups, and how Russia might increase its action against Daesh, which is our sole enemy,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

Western nations have complained that Russia is primarily bombing rebels, including moderates, which threaten the regime of Bashar al-Assad, rather than targeting IS.

But Le Drian said he hoped France would also be able to cooperate with Russia in other areas.

“There are many Russian speakers in Daesh which it would be useful for us to have information on, and likewise we could perhaps provide information on their French speakers,” the minister said.

“Intelligence sharing requires giving on both sides,” he said.

Le Drian and Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu will also discuss ways to avoid any collisions between Russian and French aircraft in Syrian airspace.

France recently deployed its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Gulf, with 26 bombers on board, for operations against IS in Iraq and Syria. Other aircraft are also stationed in Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

The defence ministers’ talks follow a visit to Moscow last month by French President Francois Hollande, when he sought support from Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for increased action against IS in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris.

The two leaders agreed to “intensify” and “coordinate” attacks, mainly by targeting the transportation of the oil products which finance the group and through the exchange of intelligence.

Russian air strikes on IS have since increased but 80 percent of their attacks remain on Syrian rebels, according to French military sources.

This is only the second bilateral meeting between Le Drian and Shoigu, as relations between the two ministers were suspended for two years after the annexation of the Crimea by Russia in 2014.

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