After "cordial" summit EU, Russia to aim for new pact

In a further sign of an improved atmosphere between the sides, Russia and the European Union announced their aim Friday to begin talks on a new partnership agreement, reported dpa.

An announcement at the end of a summit in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk said negotiations would begin July 4 in Brussels, with the old EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia to remain in force until a new one is ratified.

Speaking after what he said was a "constructive and cordial" summit, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the pact would open new horizons for the development of both sides.

The summit, which took place in a concert hall in the oil-rich Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk, signalled the start of official talks to hammer out the new deal.

For his part, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the European Union "welcomed" Medvedev's announcement that Russia wanted to strengthen the rule of law in Russia and target corruption, or "legal nihilism."

Earlier, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero- Waldner said "Medvedev is very serious about cooperating more closely with the European Union."

Ferrero-Waldner stressed the EU's view that the new EU-Russia partnership deal should set binding legal foundations for relations.

Analysts say the negotiations will offer both sides a chance to size up the political will to overcome a host of problems in the energy and security sectors before a deal can be brokered.

Brussels-based diplomats hope Medvedev will prove a more flexible partner than his predecessor Vladimir Putin, whose bellicose line aggravated relations with the EU's post-Soviet member states.

Poland and Lithuania vetoed earlier attempts at an agreement because of bilateral trade rows and Russia's entanglement in the so- called frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova.

Medvedev has shown no inclination to exacerbate things, but press statements by his top advisors have criticized attempts by EU member states to "politicize" relations and manipulate the EU.

Both sides differ on what form a new agreement should take. Russia wants a more general plan mapped on the one which expired last year, while the EU insists on a more detailed pact, with precise wording on energy and security issues.

In his remarks Friday, Medvedev went into more specifics about the idea he first floated in Berlin about a common security structure for Europe outside of NATO, arguing that neither the western Alliance nor the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe were currently in a position to guarantee security for all of Europe.

"All issues of European security, including the planned US anti- missile defence, should be clarified together," Medvedev demanded, while urging again a pan-European security conference including participation by the US.

On other issues, the EU and Russia backed a new Baltic Sea pipeline - an issue of controversy within the EU itself - which is to transport Russian natural gas to Germany.

Medvedev said the so-called Nord Stream project was a purely business venture which was only be damaged by being exaggeeratedly politicized. Barroso demanded that the pipeline must meet environmental protection standards.

Ahead of the talks, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had remarked that "the whole complex of energy-related issues is one of the most important elements of our relations with Russia.

"It is an area where our interdependence is very strong, and it is only natural that this should be reflected in the new agreement," he said.

Russian officials said holding talks in oil-rich Khanty-Mansiysk was symbolic. The region accounts for about 40 per cent of the country's exports, of which the EU is biggest customer.

After the US and China, Russia is the third-biggest foreign trade partner for the EU.

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