Lithuania and Poland Can't Block Talks

ReutersLithuanian President Valdas Adamkus arriving at EU talks Friday in Brussels.
BRUSSELS -- Poland and Lithuania recognized on Sunday that they had no power to veto new talks between the European Union and Russia on a partnership pact, setting the stage for a possible early restart to the stalled negotiations.

The 27-member bloc and Russia are to hold a summit in the French city of Nice on Friday. France, the current EU president, and most EU states say it is time to relaunch talks that were frozen after Russia's war with Georgia in August.

Lithuania has resisted, arguing that Russia has not met all the commitments imposed on it by a French-brokered ceasefire in the conflict over Georgia's separatist region of South Ossetia.

After weeks of wrangling over the procedure for resuming the negotiations, a Lithuanian diplomat said Vilnius accepted the French argument that no country had the power to block the restart of talks.

"The European Commission has the right to go ahead with talks without our approval," the senior diplomat said in an interview.

However, the envoy added that any relaunch of talks would not receive Vilnius' blessing.

"We will not approve the talks as the European Commission wants, because we don't agree in principle that Russia has met its all obligations in Georgia. ... We will not shut up," the diplomat said.

Poland, whose president recently backed Lithuanian concerns, also acknowledged that there was no legal requirement for the European Commission to have support from 27 states to restart talks for which the EU Commission already has a mandate.

"We know that unanimity is not required to restart the EU-Russia talks," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Jacek Paszkowski said by telephone.

The European Commission urged the two nations on Friday to drop their objections to restarting the talks.

"To my Lithuanian and Polish friends, I would say to you, it is actually better for you to have a united Europe speaking to Russia," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said at a news conference. "It may not be a position entirely to your liking, but ... there is a shared interest. We want to be able to speak with a single voice to Russia as a union. In that way, we have a great deal more weight in defending our interests, in defending our values."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he believed Moscow had met the criteria to allow the talks to resume.

The proposed EU-Russia pact covers political, trade and economic ties between the bloc and its major energy supplier.

The commission and most European states see the partnership accord as a way of helping the EU to maintain a common front in its often prickly relations with Russia.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Lech Kaczynski met on the sidelines of a EU summit in Brussels on Friday, and a Lithuanian government statement said they stressed that the EU must not make concessions when Russia had not met its promises.

"There are questions to which nobody has actually responded," Adamkus said on arrival. "So, the question is: Are we going ahead without fulfilling the commitments that were made?"