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EU says partnership talks with Russia to proceed after Nov.18

RIA Novosti

10/11/2008 19:54 BRUSSELS, November 10 (RIA Novosti) - The European Union said on Monday that talks on a new strategic partnership agreement with Russia would resume later this month, despite opposition from Lithuania.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters after an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels: "The presidency statement clearly backs the position of the Commission that we must go on with our negotiations."

She said negotiations could take place after a meeting in Geneva on the August Russia-Georgia conflict, scheduled for November 18.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country holds the EU presidency, said all but one of the EU's 27 members had supported the restart of talks with Russia.

Lithuania made it clear before the ministers' meeting that it would continue to oppose a resumption of negotiations with Russia. However, the negotiations do not require the support of all 27 member states.

Reacting to the vote, the Russian Foreign Ministry's press service called Lithuania's decision "regrettable", and stressed that a new agreement was essential both for Russia and the EU.

Poland had previously also opposed negotiations on the new Russia-EU agreement, set to cover political, economic and trade relations, but has now lifted its objections.

The EU announced on September 1 that it had suspended talks on the pact with Russia due to the presence of Russian troops in Georgia more than two weeks after the end of a brief war with the South Caucasus state over breakaway South Ossetia. The EU said it would not resume the talks until Russia pulled all its troops in Georgia back to their pre-conflict positions.

Although Moscow completed its troop pullout from buffer zones in Georgia in October, questions remain over the scale of its presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another disputed province.

The first round of talks on a new deal was held in July. The agreement is set to replace the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was extended for a year when it expired in December 2007. The talks were postponed over Polish and Lithuanian opposition.

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