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Poland, Lithuania Say They Cannot Veto EU-Russia Talks

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Poland and Lithuania have recognized they have 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 Riviera city of Nice on November 14. 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 September.

Lithuania has resisted, arguing that Russia has not met all the commitments imposed on it by a French-brokered cease-fire in the conflict over the rebel Georgian 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 told Reuters.

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."

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 had urged the two nations to drop their objections to restarting the talks. 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.

Kremlin officials are markedly less enthusiastic than the EU about the arrangement. Analysts say Russia traditionally prefers to deal with European states individually.