EU ministers look for opening on Russia talks

March 29th, 2008 - 12:40 am ICT by admin  

Brdo (Slovenia), March 28 (DPA) The foreign ministers of the European Union Friday pushed for an agreement on launching talks on a strategic political deal with Russia at an informal meeting in Slovenia. “We are working on a new partnership between the EU and Russia… Russia is a friend, we have had our relations developing in a positive way for a very long time and they should continue,” Slovenia’s Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who hosted the meeting, said.

“I hope that the discussions that we will have today will set aside the hindrances which have stopped us opening talks in the past. I trust that, even if not formally, we will take the first steps towards opening talks on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PAC),” Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.

Relations between the EU and Russia are currently governed by a PAC agreed in 1997. That deal was initially set to last 10 years, with a successor to be negotiated by the end of 2007.

But new EU member states Poland and Lithuania, who joined the union in 2004, have so far blocked the opening of talks on a new and wide-ranging deal establishing cooperation on economic, judicial, foreign policy and cultural issues.

Poland’s veto was provoked by a Russian ban on its meat and vegetable products, while Lithuania protests against the closure of a Russian pipeline feeding crude oil to its only refinery - a pipeline ironically called ‘Druzhba’, or ‘Friendship’.

Poland’s stance has softened since Russia pledged to lift the meat ban and came to a deal Wednesday on the vegetable issue, leaving Lithuania’s concerns over energy as the main apparent stumbling block to opening talks.

“Without the Lithuanians, there is no deal,” Rupel said simply, adding that he hoped talks on the PAC could start before Slovenia hands over the EU’s rotating presidency July 1.

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