Path Cleared For Russia's EU Talks

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- The European Union looks likely to start talks with Russia next month on a new partnership deal after Lithuania on Sunday dropped its veto on negotiations starting.

Lithuania had blocked agreement on a mandate for the talks, which the EU hopes to start at a summit in Khanty-Mansiisk on June 26 and 27, as it wanted the mandate to include several topics, including a resumption of Russian oil supplies cut in 2006.

Lithuania dropped its veto after talks in Vilnius with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

"I have to state that the EU is united today. ... All Lithuanian concerns were taken into account in principle, in written [form]," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said at a news conference after the talks.

He said he hoped the mandate for the talks with Russia, which will be conducted by the European Commission, would be approved at an EU foreign ministers' meeting later this month.

He added that a successful end to the talks with Russia on a new pact, covering trade and political partnership, would be related to success in the resumption of oil supplies and the solution of the frozen conflicts in Moldova and Georgia.

These were two of the issues Lithuania wanted in the mandate. It also wanted Russian cooperation in criminal investigations and compensations for Lithuanians deported to Siberia by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Rupel said the agreement in Vilnius showed that EU states could work together, even though there were 27 of them.

"I think Lithuania's vital interests have been taken into account, and we should all be happy about it," he said.

In a statement released in Ljubljana, he also said the draft mandate included the frozen conflicts and integrity of Georgia and Moldova and effective cooperation with Russia on judicial and energy issues. The Polish and Swedish foreign ministers were also in Vilnius on Sunday, and they traveled to Georgia on Monday with their Lithuanian, Latvian and Slovenian colleagues.