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Italian, Russian Leaders Stress Need for 'Strategic Partnership' Talks


Russia and Italy say they want talks between Moscow and the European Union on a new strategic partnership agreement to begin as soon as possible.

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi and visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a joint statement Wednesday, saying the dialogue could help boost economic growth and security throughout Europe.

EU member Poland has blocked talks on renewing the pact, which would extend key Russian-European energy deals and would broadly shape diplomatic and economic relations between Moscow and the West. The existing deal expires later this year.

Warsaw says it will continue to veto negotiations until Moscow lifts an import ban on Polish meat and other agricultural products.

On Tuesday, Russian and EU negotiators ended two days of talks in Moscow, but reached no agreement on the Polish import ban. Russian envoys presented a list of alleged deficiencies in the Polish products.

An EU spokesman said European negotiators do not believe any of the complaints are serious enough to warrant the Russian import embargo.

The Russian and Italian leaders met in a 12th-century castle in the Italian port city of Bari. They signed a series of energy, banking and aerospace deals.

The two countries had annual trade last year of more than $26 billion. Italy is Russia's third largest trading partner, after Germany and China.

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