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EU Welcomes Russia-Belarus Oil Agreement --> Javier Solana (file photo) (AFP) January 13, 2007 -- The European Union's foreign policy chief has welcomed an agreement between Russia and Belarus on oil transit.

Javier Solana said today the deal "is good news for both countries and the European Union." The dispute between Minsk and Moscow disrupted oil supplies to Europe.

Solana said the interruption of supplies "points to the need for a better understanding between the EU and Russia on the basic principles of a future energy partnership."

EU officials have said previously the disruption undermined trust in Russia as energy supplier.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said on January 12 that Russia will cut its duty on oil exports to Belarus to $53 per ton. Moscow previously said it would charge more than three times that amount ($180).

Fradkov described the deal as "a balanced solution corresponding to the interests of both countries."

The talks came after Minsk and Moscow agreed in principle earlier this week to resolve their differences.

'Damaged Reputation'

In other comments, Russian Trade Minister German Gref today said that Russia's reputation has been damaged by its recent dispute with Belarus over oil transit.

Gref, who took part in the negotiations which eneded the dispute, said it will take years for Russia to overcome European fears about Moscow's dependability as an energy supplier.

Meanwhile, Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Kabyakou says the deal is fair. According to reports, the deal will see Russia earning about $1 billion more this year from Belarus.

Kabyakou said he does not expect domestic consumer prices to rise as a result of the new agreement with Russia.

(ITAR-TASS, AFP, AP, Interfax)

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