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Kouchner: EU-Russia Talks Could Resume At Summit

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner (file photo)
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The European Union does not rule out resuming talks with Russia on a partnership pact at an EU-Russia summit on November 14, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a newspaper interview on October 28.

Kouchner and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana are likely to raise the pact talks, frozen over Russia's war with Georgia in August, when they meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in St. Petersburg on October 28.

Kouchner was asked by Russia's "Kommersant" newspaper if tensions between Moscow and the EU would prevent the talks being restarted at the summit, being hosted in Nice by France, the current EU president.

"Not at all," he was quoted as saying in an interview. "Twenty-seven EU foreign ministers decided at our last meeting that a resumption of the negotiations is inevitable."

"We suspended the negotiations because we wanted Russia to comply with the agreement on the withdrawal of its troops [from parts of Georgia]. And that has been done."

The partnership and cooperation pact is designed as a blueprint for long-term relations between Moscow and Brussels. Russia supplies a quarter of Europe's gas while the EU is Russia's biggest trading partner.

Danger Of War

Kouchner also restated his belief that there was a risk of a conflict between Russia and aspiring NATO member Ukraine over the Crimean Peninsula, a part of Ukraine with a predominantly Russian-speaking population.

Kouchner said he did not believe Russian President Dmitry Medvedev or Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wanted a conflict with Ukraine over Crimea.

But he said: "Such a danger exists.... It's just that right now, at a time of economic crisis, people have so many problems that under no circumstances should war be allowed as well."

Russian forces launched a massive counter-attack on Georgia after Tbilisi's forces tried to retake the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia.

Western states condemned Russia's action -- which included sending troops into undisputed Georgian territory -- as disproportionate. Russia said it had been obliged to act to prevent a genocide of the separatists by Georgia.

Kouchner, who helped broker a ceasefire, said the planned deployment of 7,600 Russian troops in South Ossetia and the second Georgian breakaway region of Abkhazia was not part of the ceasefire deal.

He also entered into the fierce debate over whether Russia or Georgia had started the conflict.

"Georgia was attacked. You [Russia] without question had prepared. Russian troops by some miracle turned up on the border at the right time," Kouchner said in the interview.