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EU Says It's Ready To Restart Partnership Talks With Russia

Last updated at: 10.11.2008 16:49

(RFE/RL) -- The European Commission has announced that negotiations on a wide-ranging partnership agreement with Russia will be resumed, although no date was announced.

Lithuania had strongly objected to restarting the talks, which were suspended following Russia's military action in Georgia, but was unable to block the measure due to lack of veto powers.

However, the day was not a total loss for Vilnius, which succeeded in getting the EU Presidency to restate its commitment to Georgia's territorial integrity and nonrecognition of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In announcing the resumption of talks after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner stressed that Brussels was not backing away from its opposition to Russia's recent actions in Georgia.

Suspended Talks

Moscow's military response and incursion into the South Caucasus country in August led the bloc to suspend the talks in early September. Resumption was conditional on Russia meeting a number of commitments, including the deployment of EU observers and the withdrawal of forces to preconflict positions.

Despite those conditions, Russian troops remain ensconced in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the two Georgian breakaway republics at the center of the fighting between Russia and Georgia. Both have declared independence, but have received little recognition aside from their main ally, Russia.

But Ferrero-Waldner said the decision doesn't change anything in terms of how the EU perceives events.

"This does not mean that we are [giving] a gift to Russia, and it does also not mean that we are changing our very firm position on the events of summer," she said. "Russia's actions toward Georgia do remain unacceptable, both the violation of the territorial integrity and the unilateral recognition of the two entities [South Ossetia and Abkhazia]. And we have a Geneva [negotiating] process for that."

With a key EU-Russia summit set to take place in Nice on November 14, France, which holds the current EU Presidency, had been vocal about resuming the talks on the partnership agreement.

But France was met with strong opposition from Lithuania, which argued that Russia had failed to meet its commitments.

'Face-Saving' Move

Vilnius conceded that there was little it could do without a veto as it entered the meeting of EU foreign ministers to discuss the issue. Instead, focus turned toward a joint statement that would clarify the EU's position on Georgia.

It appears Lithuania will get what it sought. An official from an EU member state tells RFE/RL that in a "face-saving" move, the French presidency is to issue a statement that will reiterate Brussels' commitment to the territorial integrity of Georgia, and on the nonrecognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

According to the official, who requested anonymity, the statement is to be handed to Russia on November 14, when the EU-Russia summit is set to take place.

Ferrero-Waldner acknowledged the challenges of striking a new partnership agreement with its main energy supplier.

"We know the relationship is deep and complex. We have an interdependency but, at the same time, it is important to modernize this agreement, you know, for instance, on the principles of the energy security," she said. "It is highly important to go on and, therefore, we think it is in the objective interest of the European Union to do so."

Lithuania, which maintains its objections to restarting the negotiations, is expected to issue its own statement on the issue.


Copyright (c) 2008. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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