EU close to deal on restarting Russia talks

November 7th, 2008 - 12:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Nov 7 (DPA) The European Union (EU) is close to a deal on re-starting talks on a strategic treaty with Russia which it froze following Russia’s occupation of Georgia.But Lithuania, in particular, is still against any such move, especially since Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Wednesday threatened to site missiles across Lithuania’s border in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, sources said.

On Thursday, EU ambassadors debated in Brussels the question of whether or not the bloc should re-open talks on the so-called “New EU-Russia Agreement” (NERA), which is meant to set a legally-binding framework for relations in everything from energy to culture.

The debate was held ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday and an EU-Russia summit on Nov 14.

EU leaders at an emergency summit on Sep 1 decided to freeze NERA talks until Russia pulled its troops out of Georgia to the lines they held before the Russian-Georgian war began on Aug 7.

Russia has since pulled its soldiers out of some, but not all of the occupied zones.

But Wednesday the EU’s executive, the European Commission, which is tasked with conducting the NERA talks, said that in its view “the next negotiating sessions should be scheduled now.”

The commission argued that “these negotiations should continue, first because this would allow the EU to pursue its own interests with Russia, and secondly because this is the best way to engage with Russia on the basis of a unified position.”

Many EU member states backed that comment, arguing that it is in the bloc’s interest to hold talks with Russia.

But a number of states that condemned Russia’s occupation of Georgia most strongly - Britain, Sweden, Poland and the Baltic States - insist that any decision on re-opening talks on the NERA should be accompanied by a declaration making it clear that relations between the EU and Russia are not yet back to “business as usual.”

Ministers Monday therefore face the double task of persuading Lithuania, and to a lesser extent Poland, to approve a re-launch of talks, and drafting a declaration which satisfies both those member states which want to see a condemnation of Russia, and those which want to avoid provoking the Kremlin.

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