EU threatens to suspend talks on pact with Russia

September 2nd, 2008 - 7:15 am ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Sep 2 (DPA) European Union leaders fired a warning shot at Moscow Monday by threatening to suspend talks on a deeper relationship with Russia until its troops withdrew from Georgia.”The European Council considers that given the interdependence between the European Union and Russia, and the global problems they are facing, there is no desirable alternative to a strong relationship, based on cooperation, trust and dialogue,” EU leaders said at an emergency meeting in Brussels.

“Until troops have withdrawn to the positions held prior to 7 Aug, meetings on the negotiation of the Partnership Agreement will be postponed,” they added.

Washington welcomed the EU decision and said it demonstrated that “Europe and the US are united in standing firm behind Georgia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and reconstruction.”

The next round of talks on a new cooperation deal with Russia are scheduled for Sep 15.

Before that, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the bloc, will head a high-level EU delegation to Moscow Monday.

The visit will give the EU a chance to review whether the six- point peace plan signed by Russia and Georgia is being implemented, Sarkozy said.

Should no sign of a Russian troop withdrawal materialize by then, the EU will suspend the Sep 15 talks on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA).

The original PCA, which came into force in 1997, is a contract drawn up between the EU and Russia governing their relationship in matters such as trade, investment, environmental protection, tourism and cultural exchanges.

The decision to suspend talks was the result of a hard-fought compromise pitting hardliners such as Britain, Poland and the Baltics on one side and Germany, France and Italy on the other.

Poland in particular had called for a tough response to Russia’s “disproportionate” use of force in Georgia, including the possibility of sanctions.

EU doves such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel had, on the other hand, stressed the need for dialogue with Moscow and thus show that the bloc can play a mediating role in the South Caucasus conflict.

The outcome of the summit was hailed as a victory by both sides.

While Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk called the joint statement issued in Brussels “an important conclusion,” Merkel said EU leaders had found an “excellent compromise”.

“Today Europe is united around the propositions put forward by the French presidency (of the EU),” Sarkozy said.

In Brussels, EU leaders said Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia not only violated international law, but also posed a serious threat to future EU- Russia relations. They urged other countries not to follow Moscow’s lead.

“We join the EU in condemning Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and in calling on other states not to recognize these Georgian separatist regions. We also agree with the EU’s conclusion that Russia has a choice to make in order not to isolate itself from Europe,” a White House statement said.

So far, Russia is the only country to have recognized the two regions as independent nations. Only Belarus and Venezuela have indicated they might do the same.

Russia’s isolation has not stopped President Dmitry Medvedev from telling the EU that Moscow’s decision to recognize the breakaway Georgian enclaves was “irrevocable.”

In an ominous sign of things to come, reports out of Berlin said Russia’s Gazprom had decided to shut down its Yamal natural-gas pipeline supplying Western Europe for more than a day this week, ostensibly for “routine maintenance.”

EU nations are largely dependent on Russia for their energy needs, from whom they currently import about 40 percent of their gas and 33 percent of their oil.

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