EU to resume key talks with Russia, though Lithuania objects

11:20, 11 November 2008
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Lithuania maintains...

EU foreign ministers agreed on Monday that frozen talks on a new strategic pact with Russia should restart, despite Lithuanian opposition, with the negotiations expected to begin within weeks, accoring to AFP .

"We have found a good way to proceed," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, after talks between European Union foreign ministers in Brussels. "We think it is time to resume the talks."

Lithuania maintains that the talks should remain frozen as Russia has not fully complied with the terms of a peace deal following its short war with Georgia in August.

While Russia has pulled its troops out of the heart of Georgia it still has several thousand massed in South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, both of which Moscow has recognised as independent states.

"We think this is a mistake. History will show who was right and who was not," Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Zygimantas Pavilionis told AFP of the EU`s decision to resume negotiations.

A Russian foreign ministry official in Moscow voiced regret at the lack of EU unanimity, saying "we hope that reason will end up prevailing."

Georgia`s foreign minister Ekaterine Tkeshelashvili said that at least EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana "was able to assure that it is not a return to `business as usual`."

Tkeshelashvili said Russia was clearly in breach of its ceasefire commitments and that "what`s important is that the matter isn`t closed and that they will raise it with Russia."

The EU-Russia talks are aimed at upgrading a more than decade-old framework under which ties between Moscow and Brussels are governed.

The European Commission has a mandate to resume the talks, frozen on September 1 over Russia`s military action in Georgia, and does not require all 27 EU member states to endorse its move.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, said that "26 out of 27 is not so bad as a majority and secondly it was not necessary to vote," as the commission mandate already exists.

In lieu of an agreed EU statement, the French EU presidency issued a press release on the decision.

The talks with Russia are the best way for the EU to pursue its aims, "furthering its principles and values, and resolutely defending its interest with a united front," the statement said.

They "in no way legitimise the status quo in Georgia or Russian action contrary to our values and principles" the EU presidency added.

The near-unanimity was made possible after Poland dropped its own opposition to opening the talks, which it had long upheld.

Britain and Sweden, previously unenthusiastic about reviving the talks also arrived at the Brussels with a joint statement backing the move.

"We agree with the consensus of views," said Poland`s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

The EU-Russia partnership talks "should restart at the very end of this month or the first half of next month," he added.

Poland and Lithuania, both former Soviet satellites, had voiced constant opposition to the idea, saying that Moscow has not complied with the peace deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to end the Russia-Georgia conflict.

The ministers` meeting was aimed at ironing out differences ahead of an EU-Russia summit in Nice, southern France, starting on Friday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev did little to assuage Poland and Lithuania`s misgivings when he threatened last Wednesday to deploy missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave bordered by both countries.

The new EU-Russia pact will cover political, economic and trade relations between Europe and its major energy supplier.

At present EU-Russian relations are governed by a 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement reached when a much weaker Russia was emerging from the break-up of the old Soviet Union.

The EU wants to include energy and security issues in the new pact.

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