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EU asks Poland, Lithuania to back Russia talks

  The European Commission urged Lithuania and Poland to drop objections to restarting talks on closer ties with Russia on Friday, saying the bloc had to speak with a single voice in negotiations with Moscow.


French President Nicolas Sarkozy, holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, argued that Moscow had met commitments necessary to allow resumption of the talks, delayed in September after Georgia and Russia had fought a five-day war. And Sarkozy told a news conference after an EU summit in Brussels the agreement of all 27 EU states was in any case not needed as the talks had simply been postponed, not suspended.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU executive had urged the restart of the talks on a broad new pact covering all aspects of relations with Moscow. “To my Lithuanian and Polish friends, I would say to you, it is actually better for you to have a united Europe speaking to Russia,” Barroso told the news conference. “It may not be a position entirely to your liking, but ... there is a shared interest. We want to be able to speak with a single voice to Russia as a union. In that way we have a great deal more weight in defending our interests, in defending our values.”

Most EU states back a restart of the talks with Russia, a key energy supplier, despite concerns over its troop presence in two breakaway Georgian regions and over its plans to station missiles on EU borders. The restart could be finalized at an EU-Russia summit in Nice, France on Nov. 14. However Lithuania has firmly opposed the move, and Poland has also expressed reservations. EU foreign ministers will broach the matter at regular talks in Brussels on Monday. Lithuania argues talks should be renewed only when Russia withdraws its troops in Georgia’s rebel South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions to positions held before the August war. It wants the decision delayed until spring.



Sarkozy contended Russia had stuck to its commitment to withdraw its forces to pre-conflict lines, to a ceasefire, to allow deployment of EU ceasefire observers and to launch talks on the future of the two breakaway regions. He said he had expressed significant concerns about Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s announcement this week of plans to deploy missiles near Poland in response to US plans for an anti-missile system, but it did not seem reasonable to create a crisis between the European Union and Russia. “I think it’s best to see one another if we have things to talk about,” Sarkozy said. “It’s much better than to ignore one another and refuse to meet with one another.”

Some EU states, including Britain, back restarting the talks but want EU foreign ministers on Monday to agree a statement noting that Russia has not fully met conditions, diplomats say. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Lech Kaczynski met on the sidelines of the summit and a Lithuanian government statement said they stressed that the EU must not make concessions when Russia had not met its promises. “There are questions to which nobody has actually responded,” Adamkus said on arrival. “So the question is: are we going ahead without fulfilling the commitments that were made?” (Reuters)