Lithuania Ready to Block EU’s Russia Talks

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania is prepared to take a stand against the rest of the European Union to try to tighten the terms of an EU mandate for partnership talks with Russia, the country's foreign minister said.

EU president Slovenia wants a mandate to be rubber-stamped by foreign ministers of the 27-member bloc in Luxembourg on Tuesday, allowing negotiations with Moscow on a wide-ranging pact to begin by the time of an EU-Russia summit in Khanty-Mansiisk on June 26 and 27.

But Lithuania is demanding that any mandate include assurances on energy supplies, Russian cooperation over a missing Lithuanian businessman, and movement by Moscow on unresolved "frozen conflicts" in other former Soviet republics.

Some EU envoys said a deal was in sight after Slovenia offered ideas for a compromise on Thursday. A Slovenian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the standoff was now being discussed "at the highest level."

But Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said he would insist that the issue be dropped from the agenda of Tuesday's meeting unless its demands were fully met.

"I have told Slovenia that I will demand taking the issue of a mandate off the agenda of the EU foreign ministers' meeting," he told the Lithuanian parliament's European Affairs committee on Friday. "That is going to be an open confrontation with the EU presidency, as well as with the other EU member states."

Vaitiekunas said Lithuania had the right to demand assurances on its energy security and on Russia's cooperation in criminal cases, some dating back to the early 1990s.

Failure to reach an agreement would be an embarrassment for the European Union just before a scheduled meeting with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday evening.

EU negotiations with Russia, covering trade, energy, human rights and political cooperation, were to have started in November 2006.

Diplomats said new EU presidency proposals made Thursday sought to meet Lithuanian demands for assurances on the Druzhba pipeline, which carries Russian oil through Ukraine and Belarus to Europe, and on judicial cooperation.

"We basically have a package that would be agreeable to everyone. It is just the timing that remains," one envoy said.

Partly to show Lithuania that the EU takes seriously its concerns about Russia's dealings with other former Soviet republics, foreign ministers are due on Tuesday to debate mounting tensions between Moscow and Georgia.