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EU To Delay Decision On Russia Partnership Talks

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, Finnish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Alexander Stubb, EU External Relation Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon,
BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- European Union leaders appear set to delay a decision on when to restart talks with Russia on a stalled partnership pact, suspended after Russia's incursion into Georgia in August, a draft statement showed.

The draft, due to be approved by leaders at the final session of a two-day summit, welcomed the withdrawal of Russian troops from buffer zones in Georgia but fell short of saying that partnership talks could start again.

"The European Council is asking the [European] Commission and the Council [of foreign ministers] to continue a full in-depth evaluation of EU-Russia relations with a view to the forthcoming [EU-Russia] summit, scheduled to take place in Nice on November 14," said the final draft statement obtained by Reuters. "It will be taken into account in the further negotiations for a new Partnership Agreement with Russia."

An earlier version had said that talks would resume in November but EU President France failed to convince all its partners to agree to this.

Poland, Sweden, and three ex-Soviet Baltic states have led resistance to any quick thaw with Moscow, and Britain has also said the EU should make sure Russia is fully abiding by an EU-brokered cease-fire agreement before resuming negotiations.

At issue is a military Russian presence in the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia far larger than before fighting began on August 7, and a Russian outpost in the disputed pocket of Akhalgori.

Talks on the future of the disputed regions broke down as soon as they began in Geneva on October 15 and were suspended until next month after diplomats failed to get Georgia and Russia to agree on who was allowed to take part.