Obama and Putin to be kept apart during D-Day commemorations by 'two-meals Hollande'

French President will have two meals in one night as tensions over Ukraine escalate

Francois Hollande is unlikely to go hungry on Thursday night after it was revealed the French President will have two dinners in one evening in an attempt to keep Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin apart.

Hollande is hosting 18 heads of state this week to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Presidents Obama and Putin are among those attending the commemorations but, with tensions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine escalating tensions between the two superpowers, there are no plans for direct talks between the two leaders.

The French President will be the first Western leader to meet individually with Putin since pro-European protests overthrew Ukraine's pro-Moscow president, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, and the US and EU imposed sanctions over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

French and Russian diplomats in Paris said that Hollande will host two consecutive dinners Thursday. Obama comes first; then two hours later it's Putin's turn, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity to be able to discuss the plans before they are publicly formalized.

“As host of many different countries, he's having a range of separate meetings,” Obama's foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes said. “But there will not be a trilateral dinner that evening between the three of them. It's just a one-on-one.”

 

One of the meals might take place outside the presidential palace, a French diplomatic official said. That would reduce the likelihood that Obama and Putin might run into each other. A Russian diplomatic official said the schedule is being carefully measured to ensure that each visiting president gets sufficient time with the French leader.

France, with substantial trade, banking and energy ties to Russia, has been more cautious on sanctions than the US or some European countries. Hollande defended his decision to keep Putin on the invitation list for the D-Day ceremonies.

Despite differences over Ukraine, Hollande said last month, “I will never forget that the Russian people gave millions of lives” in the Second World War fighting against the Nazis.

It’s not the first time Obama has been thrust into the same vicinity as a foe at an international gathering. The US President shook hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a regional summit in 2009. He also exchanged a handshake and brief pleasantries with Cuban leader Raul Castro last year while both attended a memorial service in South Africa for Nelson Mandela.

The event commemorates the massive invasion of Normandy beaches that helped turn the Second World War against Hitler. France is framing it as a reminder of the importance of European peace and unity.

AP

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