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Russia, European Union Launch Talks On Strategic Partnership Pact

EU leaders had their first chance to size up Medvedev (second from right)

EU leaders had their first chance to size up Medvedev (second from right)

Russian and European Union officials meeting in the Siberian oil town of Khanty-Mansiisk have launched negotiations on a new strategic partnership pact, in an apparent step toward more constructive relations between Moscow and Brussels following years of concern over deteriorating ties.

The announcement of the partnership pact is a feather in the cap of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose leadership style is seen as more accommodating than that of his brusque predecessor, Vladimir Putin.

Medvedev welcomed the agreement and praised the EU for putting aside internal disagreements in favor of a more productive relationship with Russia.

"The future agreement is a tool for a real rapprochement between Russia and the EU," Medvedev said. "It has to be built on the principles of equality, pragmatism, respect for one another's interests, and, naturally, a commonality of approaches toward key issues of security."

The first round of talks on the new cooperation deal are due to be held in Brussels on July 4. They will come as a relief to EU officials, who have been desperate to put their uneasy relations with a major energy supplier on a more stable footing.

Talks on a new EU-Russia strategic partnership treaty had been stalled since November 2006. The result has been a roadblock in working relations between the two sides on issues ranging from human rights to trade and security matters.

The fate of the treaty had been in doubt as first Poland and then Lithuania voiced their intention to block talks. But Brussels, alarmed by deteriorating ties with its increasingly powerful neighbor, was ultimately able to get all EU members on board.

The announcement followed a three-hour meeting that allowed officials including European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and foreign policy chief Javier Solana to assess Medvedev, who took office last month.

Barroso praised the new Russian leader as a "very open person who really wants to engage."

With material from agency reports