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French President Sarkozy says progress made on Iran after talks with Putin

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, seeking to crank up pressure on Iran, said he had bridged differences with Russia's Vladimir Putin over how the world should respond to Tehran's nuclear activities.

Sarkozy, on his first presidential visit to Russia, gave no details Tuesday about the leaders' "convergences" on Iran or any signal that a quick solution to the international standoff is in sight. Russian officials made no public mention of progress.

But Sarkozy - who has toed a tough line on Russia recently - struck a decidely upbeat note after more than three hours of talks with Putin on a battery of touchy subjects.

"Our positions moved much closer together" on Iran, Sarkozy told reporters. He mentioned "many convergences" over Iran.

Sarkozy has hardened France's stance on Iran in recent months, shifting closer to the United States in his insistence on tough sanctions and even his mention of the possibility of war.

Putin heads to Iran early next week amid heightened international tensions over Tehran's refusal to suspend its nuclear activities, which many fear are aimed at building weapons despite Iranian insistence that they are peaceful. While the United States and European nations are pressing for greater punishment, Russia and China have remained resistant.

Asked whether Putin could stake out a new position during the visit toward defusing the standoff, Sarkozy responded only that Putin's trip would be "very useful."

Sarkozy said they discussed diplomatic successes with North Korea as a possible example for the Iran dilemma, noting the influence China had in the North Korean negotiations.

It remained unclear how much of an effect the energetic and determined Sarkozy was having on the equally determined and powerful Putin. Russian officials gave no official report on the talks with Sarkozy, which were to resume Wednesday.

Sarkozy said the two also made progress on differences over Kosovo's independence.

Despite Russian opposition, Sarkozy insisted that independence is "indispensable" and hinted at a possible "path" toward a solution, without elaborating.

Sarkozy said he and Putin spent a "a lot" of time discussing Russia's political future.

Sarkozy was the first Western leader to meet Putin since his announcement last week that he would lead Russia's biggest party into parliamentary elections in December, leaving the door open to a job as prime minister. That would allow him to keep hold of Russia's reins even after his second presidential term expires next May.

Sarkozy said Putin "knows who will be the candidate" he wants to replace him, but wouldn't say who. Russian political circles are abuzz with speculation about who will win Putin's nod to seek the presidency, considered crucial to a successful bid.

Sarkozy has recently accused Russia of "brutality" in exercising its energy dominance, and has courted central and eastern European leaders bristling under Moscow's renewed influence.

He was less caustic after Tuesday's talks, which he described as "long, relaxed, deep, frank, passionate."

He said he was honest with Putin about French concerns over the killing a year ago of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya, over Chechnya and over the rights of homosexuals in Russia.

Upon arrival at Putin's forest estate Tuesday night, Sarkozy said France wants to be "Russia's friend" and "to understand you." Putin responded with an oft-repeated verse from a 19th Century Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev: "One cannot understand Russia with the mind ... One can only believe in it."

Putin expressed hope that trade between the countries would grow. "France has been and I hope will be a priority partner in Europe and the world," he said.

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