A Divided EU to Weigh Its Russia and China Relations

BRUSSELS -- The European Union will try to overcome sharp differences over dealing with rising powers Russia and China at a foreign ministers' retreat in Slovenia starting Friday.

Ministers will also seek to give tangible incentives to west Balkan countries to pursue European integration.

The EU is divided on how to deal with a resurgent Russia, Friday's main theme, with business and energy interests again vying with human rights issues and Moscow's treatment of its former Soviet neighbors.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel wants EU ministers to agree on a common approach for the EU's first summit with President-elect Dmitry Medvedev in Siberia next June, a spokeswoman said. He also hopes for talks to start on a new, broad EU-Russia strategic partnership agreement on trade, energy, human rights and political cooperation.

The suppression of protests in Tibet has forced the issue of China on to the agenda this week, highlighting unease in the EU over how to balance lucrative trade and investment ties with human rights concerns.

Some senior EU politicians, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have debated a boycott of the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

The European Parliament gave moral support to the Dalai Lama on Wednesday, inviting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader to plead his cause from its rostrum.

The official EU line so far has called for restraint and urged China to open a dialogue on cultural rights with the Dalai Lama.

But ministers were likely to respond to public pressure to step up criticism of Beijing in an expected joint statement on Saturday.