EU to re-start talks on deal with Russia

November 11th, 2008 - 1:13 am ICT by IANS  

Brussels, Nov 10 (DPA) The European Union (EU) is to re-start talks on a strategic treaty with Russia that it froze after Russia’s war with Georgia in August, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed Monday according to diplomatic sources.EU leaders had frozen talks in protest against Russia’s occupation of Georgia, demanding that it pull its troops back to pre-conflict lines. Russia has since made a partial withdrawal.

But ahead of Monday’s meeting, a growing number of member states said that the bloc should return to the negotiating table, arguing that it was not in the EU’s interest not to talk with its biggest neighbour and most important energy supplier.

“We can support resuming negotiations … because we believe that the issues that will be covered are in the EU’s interests as well as Russia’s,” British Foreign Minister David Miliband and his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt - among the most vocal critics of Russia’s actions - said in a joint statement Monday morning.

“We are not returning to business as usual, nor are we turning the page on the conflict in Georgia. The EU will stick to the tough mandate that has been agreed for the negotiations,” the duo said.

That left EU newcomers Poland and Lithuania diplomatically isolated and under intense pressure to resume talks on the so-called “New EU-Russia Agreement” ahead of an EU summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in the French resort of Nice Friday.

“If we don’t have EU-Russia negotiations, do you think anyone wouldn’t negotiate with Russia? Would it be in Lithuania’s or Poland’s interest to have other countries reaching bilateral agreements with Russia?” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

The new deal between the EU and Russia is intended to give a legal basis to the two sides’ relationship on matters ranging from culture and trade to energy and education. It is meant to replace a treaty signed with the regime of then-president Boris Yeltsin in 1997.

Diplomats stress that the talks will be a long-running process, and that the EU’s executive, the European Commission, which is to run the talks, is mandated to raise issues such as the conflict over Georgia’s breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

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