French president to visit Moscow in first half of 2013 - ambassador

French President Francois Hollande is expected to visit Russia in the first months of 2013, French Ambassador to Russia Jean de Gliniasty said in an interview with Interfax.

"It would be too late this year, but the visit will definitely take place in the first half of 2013," he said.

The French president has never been to Russia, earlier reports said.

There is complete understanding between Russia and France on the key foreign-policy issues, including on security problems, the French ambassador said.

"Consultations on security matters were held in Paris on Oct. 31. We are perhaps one of the few countries that hold such consultations with Russia. We discussed a number of issues and we realized that our positions are the same on almost all problems," he said.

"The only issue that divides us is Syria," Jean de Gliniasty said.

"But even in the Syria context our views coincide in the general analysis of the situation and in our understanding of the ultimate goal," he said.

"Both Russia and France want Syria to remain territorially integral and to maintain the minorities' rights. Our positions coincide on this. The question is what means should be used to attain these goals. And here we have differences," the French ambassador said.

The main disagreement is over the issue of Syrian President Bashar al Assad's departure, he said.

"France has been proposing since the start of the Syrian crisis that Assad step down as soon as possible. Russia, by contrast, argues that President Assad must not resign and that talks should be continued with the Syrian government. This problem will be resolved in practice," the French ambassador said.

France hopes, he said, that the recently formed coalition of Syrian opposition forces will become "an instrument of political process that will put an end to mass killings."

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