EU Body Backs Start Of Talks

BRUSSELS -- The European Commission on Wednesday backed restarting talks with Russia on a partnership deal that were frozen after the Russian invasion of Georgia in August.

The EU executive said in a report that EU foreign ministers should agree to resume the talks at a meeting on Monday, and such a step could be finalized at an EU-Russia summit in Nice, France, on Nov. 14.

"These negotiations should continue, first because this would allow the EU to pursue its own interests with Russia," the commission report said.

At a summit meeting last month, leaders of the EU's 27 nations were divided over whether to restart the talks. They ordered the commission to draw up a review of the bloc's relations with Russia before a decision on the way ahead.

"It remains clear that ... the EU does not accept the status quo in Georgia," the commission report added, noting that EU-Russia ties should be under continual review in light of efforts to resolve the dispute over separatist Georgian regions.

The commission reaffirmed the EU's support for an early entry of Russia into the World Trade Organization and stressed what it called the economic "interdependence" between the EU and Russia, a key energy supplier to the bloc.

It also cited concern in the bloc about a "growing gap" between the human rights situation in Russia and commitments made to bodies such as the Council of Europe rights watchdog and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

A Russia-EU partnership agreement signed in 1997 still stands but has lost much of its relevance because of Russia's energy wealth and its increasingly assertive foreign policy.

The EU has been pushing Russia to accept its terms on energy policy, security and rights. Russia has resisted.

Reuters, AP