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14 Nov, 2008 17:07

EU-Russia tensions ease?

The conflict in South Ossetia may have driven a wedge between Russia and the EU, but now the two sides are talking to each other again. At the Russia-EU summit in Nice, Dmitry Medvedev, the French President and the EU Commission President agreed to meet.

Earlier, President Medvedev put forward the idea of a new system for European security. The idea has been supported by some EU leaders and today it was agreed to set a time framework for a special summit to discuss the idea.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said he was “concerned about his [Medveded’s] statements concerning the possible deployment of Iskander missiles”.

“We feel there should be no deployment until we've discussed new geo-political terms and conditions for pan-European security.”

Sarkozy outlined plans for future contacts between the EU and Russia: “I suggested that we meet mid 2009 in the framework of the OSCE in order to lay the foundations for the future pan-European security. It’s in the interest of one and all on this continent and beyond its borders.”

Moscow says U.S. plans to deploy an anti-missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic would violate the balance of forces in Europe and threaten Russia’s national security.

Last week President Medvedev said if Washington went ahead with its AMD plans, Russia would have to place Iskander missiles on its westernmost region of Kaliningrad. The decision was not welcomed by many EU members.

Commenting on the issue, President Medvedev said it was a response to unilateral actions by the U.S. and some European countries.

“Before the agreement assuring global security is signed, we should all refrain from unilateral steps, affecting security. Russia has never taken such steps. All the decisions proposed by Russia are a response to the behaviour of individual nations in Europe, which without consulting anyone, agreed to deploy AMD systems on their own territory,” he said.

He said that “if we share one home, we should get together and seek agreement with each other”.

“And this is a meaning of that new agreement. We are ready to work further. And I’m sure that the EU can play a coordinating and reconstructive role here,” the Russian President added.

Partnership agreement talks

Apart from missiles, the long-postponed new Russia-EU agreement was on the agenda. The old Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) expired at the end of 2007 and talks on a new one have been stalled for a long time. Today it was decided that the negations should continue.

The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, said that talks will continue, but he can’t give and exact date when a new agreement could be signed.

“This is an agreement of strategic importance. We feel that it’s strategic for the European Union and I think Russia thinks likewise. It’s extremely complex in view of the huge range of areas we are going to be looking at,” he said.  

Barroso said the European Commission has a mandate for talks on a new partnership deal. “We will put our best efforts into achieving it,” he promised.

Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow is also ready to continue talks at the earliest opportunity.

“Hopefully, talks on all the essential clauses of this document will begin in the nearest future. In my view, it should be both meaningful, on the one hand, and on the other, very tough in structure,” he told reporters.

The new basic document between Russia and the EU should “set the working framework for years ahead,” he added.

“I do not know exactly when this work will be over. I would like to see this happen in the foreseeable future. At any rate, we have the current document. So far our relations are based on it. But the sooner we achieve a new document, the better. Russia is open to this work and is willing to work hard all the time,” Medvedev said.

‘Recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is final’

Among other issues discussed at the summit was solving the dispute in the Caucasus. The EU still accuses Russia for a disproportionate response to Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia.

The Russian President reiterated that his government completely recognises the territorial integrity of Georgia, taking into account Moscow's earlier recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

“Recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia is final and not liable to revision.”