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EU FMs’ meet focuses on Russia, Middle East, Kosovo

Foreign ministers of European Union member states began a two-day meeting here Friday, focusing on issues related to Russia, the Middle East and Kosovo. 

Months ahead of a crucial summit with Russia, the EU foreign ministers were scheduled to spend much of the first day on the 27-nation bloc’s tricky relations with Moscow. The EU presidency Slovenia said the discussions were designed to make preparations for an EU-Russia summit in Siberia in June.

It will be the EU’s first summit with Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev. Hopes are high that the leadership change in Russia will provide an opportunity for the EU to improve relations with the country, which have been clouded by disruptions in energy supply, the deadlock in launching negotiations for a new partnership agreement and their most recent rift on the self-declared independence of Kosovo. “Russia has voted. There will be a new President Medvedev and I believe it is an opportunity that we should use,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters upon arrival for the meeting.

Friday’s discussions included an assessment of the situation following the recent presidential elections in Russia and mutual cooperation in general, but the issue of whether to start the long-delayed negotiations with Russia on a new partnership agreement was set to dominate the talks. Slovenia has its hopes pinned on the up-coming EU-Russia summit to get negotiations launched on a new comprehensive partnership agreement covering trade, energy, human rights and political cooperation. The start of the negotiations was effectively blocked by Poland and Lithuania since Russia imposed a two-year ban on Polish meat supplies and cut off oil supplies to a Lithuanian refinery that was sold to a Polish company rather than a Russian rival.

The Polish government has recently agreed to drop its opposition after Russia lifted its ban, but Lithuania remains to be persuaded. In addition to relations with Russia, the informal meeting of EU foreign ministers opened with an in-depth discussion on the Middle East, including the peace process in the region and the situation in Lebanon, the role of Syria and Iran, and the activities of terrorist organizations, according to the Slovenian government.

On Saturday, the EU foreign ministers will concentrate on the Western Balkan region, in particular Kosovo, whose unilateral declaration of independence in February has caused a rift between member countries. The Slovenian government said the talks were to be devoted to efforts to consolidate peace and stability in the Western Balkans and revive the Thessaloniki Agenda under which, in 2003, the EU assured all Western Balkan countries of possible future EU membership, subject to the fulfillment of necessary conditions. Ministers or representatives from the Western Balkan region were expected to participate in the meeting, but the Slovenian government has also scheduled separate meetings with the Serbian foreign minister and representatives of other partners, including Kosovo. (