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Putin, Prodi Call For EU-Russia Talks Soon

Putin (left) and Prodi in Bari on March 14 (epa) March 14, 2007 -- Italy and Russia said today they wanted talks between Russia and the European Union on a new strategic partnership agreement to start as soon as possible.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi, in a joint statement following a meeting today in southern Italy, said that such talks could help promote economic growth and security in all of Europe.

Poland vetoed talks on a new Russia-EU cooperation accord in protest at a Russian ban on Polish meat and other farm products. The EU has said it believes the ban is disproportionate.

Putin and Prodi's discussions in Bari had been expected to focus on bilateral economic ties. Italy is Russia's third trade partner after Germany and China.

Putin today ends a two-day visit to Italy, during which he met on March 13 with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican.