US praises EU decision to freeze partnership talks with Russia

September 2nd, 2008 - 5:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 2 (RIA Novosti) The US has voiced its support for the European Union’s(EU) decision to postpone talks on a new partnership deal with Russia until it pulls its troops out of Georgia. The 27-nation bloc in Brussels at an emergency summit Monday stopped short of imposing sanctions on Russia and condemned Moscow’s decision to recognise Georgia’s separatist regions as independent states.

The EU also pledged to strengthen economic and political ties with Georgia.

Russia rejected the EU agreement, saying it sent the “wrong political signals”.

“This extraordinary EU summit demonstrates that Europe and the United States are united in standing firm behind Georgia’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and reconstruction,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said Monday.

“We will work with the EU to assist Georgia with its reconstruction and will participate in the international conference on Georgia’s reconstruction,” she said, adding that Russia must choose whether or not to “isolate itself from Europe.”

The EU leaders’ joint statement voiced alarm at Russia’s “disproportionate reaction” to Georgia’s Aug 8 military offensive on South Ossetia, and called for an “in-depth investigation” into relations with Moscow.

A new round of talks on a Russia-EU Partnership Cooperation Agreement governing trade, military and energy relations were due to start Sep 15. The negotiations had been launched in July after 18 months of delays. Relations are still governed by an accord signed in 1997.

Britain, Poland, and the ex-Soviet Baltic states had led calls for tough measures against Russia in the run-up to the summit, while France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Finland had taken a more cautious stance, warning against damaging ties with Russia.

“I think we found an excellent compromise by not going back to business as usual, but still making clear that we want to maintain contact with Russia,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after reaching the agreement.

However, Russia’s EU envoy, Vladimir Chizhov, said the agreement “gives the wrong political signals, and to the wrong people.”

“I don’t like the fact that this (partnership talks) process is tied to the pullback of troops to their Aug 7 positions… the troops have already been withdrawn,” Chizhov said.

However, he expressed hope that a number of issues would be ironed out during Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Moscow next week.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will be joining Sarkozy and EU policy chief Javier Solana on a visit to Moscow and Tbilisi starting Sep 8, to discuss the implementation of the French-brokered six-point peace plan.

The EU also agreed Monday to send a fact-finding mission to the region, and pledged to strengthen ties with Tbilisi and provide financial aid for reconstruction.

Russia officially recognised the Georgian breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia Aug 26, saying the move was needed to protect the regions following Georgia’s attack Aug 8 in which hundreds of civilians were killed and thousands forced to flee.

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