GeriGündem EU presidency cautious about resuming Russia talks
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EU presidency cautious about resuming Russia talks

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was cautious Monday about the likelihood of the European Union quickly resuming talks with Russia on a new strategic partnership.

"We are going to discuss it again today," he said, before chairing talks with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg. But he noted that a ceasefire deal ending the Russia-Georgia conflict in August was not being entirely respected.


While still contesting Russia’s backing for breakaway Georgian territories, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the ministers are expected to decide that Russia has kept its commitments by withdrawing troops from a buffer zone around the contested territories.

However, Kouchner and his EU counterparts have suggested that the decision to resume the partnership talks be taken immediately.

Kouchner reaffirmed that Russia had withdrawn its troops from buffer zones near the two breakaway Georgian regions, in line with a French-brokered ceasefire agreement.

"The Russians have withdrawn, and apart from South Ossetia and Abkhazia, there are no more Russia soldiers in Georgia," he said.

"We postponed" the partnership negotiations at an emergency summit on Georgia on Sept. 1, called after Russia recognized the independence of rebel Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he recalled.

But he said that of the six-points in the peace agreement reached on Aug. 12 between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, "we have fulfilled between two and three" points.

"Problems remain and we will analyze them," he said. "This is not something that can be resolved in two minutes."

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who is also head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the decision could be taken just ahead of an EU-Russia summit scheduled for Nov. 14.

German deputy foreign minister Guenter Gloser, also arriving for the Luxembourg talks, said "there will always be some people who think the EU is doing Russia a favor" with the negotiations.

"But we must ask whether (the EU) would be doing itself a favor by blocking relations," given, in particular, the importance of Russian fuel supplies to Europe.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband welcomed the Russian troop withdrawal from the "buffer zones" as "an important step forward" and highlighted the fact that European monitors were able to operate "in a free and open way" in Georgia.

While saying the partnership deal with Russia could be addressed by the EU ministers he added that "at the moment we should be focusing on ensuring that all those elements that were agreed in September, including the Geneva talks, get going with proper speed," he added.

International talks on the Geneva situation, held under UN, OSCE and EU auspices, will begin on Wednesday.

There were, however, some more reticent voices coming from the Baltic states, Poland and Sweden.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt recalled that European leaders had agreed on Sept. 1 to freeze the talks until Russian forces withdraw to the positions they held before the outbreak of hostilities in Georgia in early August.

"If you look at the map they aren’t in the positions they had prior to August 7," he told reporters.

"They have made the withdrawal primarily from the buffer zones but there are areas they are occupying now where they were not on the 7th of August."

He refused to say whether Sweden would oppose the resumption of the talks.

Russian troops moved into Georgia on Aug. 8 after Georgia’s offensive to try to bring South Ossetia back under government control.

EU leaders called off talks on a strategic partnership agreement with Russia at a special summit on Sept. 1 and one week later Russia agreed to bring its troops out of the buffer zones.

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