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EU Foreign Ministers Approves Partnership Talks With Russia

European foreign ministers agreed Monday to begin negotiations with Russia for a new partnership treaty amid disagreements between the two sides on defense, diplomatic and energy issues. For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

The European Union agreement to launch partnership talks with Russia ends months of objections by several eastern EU members. The EU and Russia are expected to formally launch the partnership talks at a summit next month.

Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel of Slovenia, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, says he expects discussions to last about a year and ratification another year although some analysts predict the entire process will take several years.

"We are not in front of a quick fix, but indeed the process has started" he said. "During the negotiations we should be able to clarify all the problems that exist between the EU and the Russian federation. But all in all...the Russian federation and the EU are partners and we want to work together."

Relations between Brussels and Moscow are far from perfect. Russia opposes plans to deploy a U.S. nuclear shield in EU members Poland and the Czech Republic. And some EU members like Romania are particularly concerned about Russia's ties to separatist movements in Moldova and Georgia. The 27-member bloc also worries about its growing dependency on Russian gas, which supplies about a quarter of their needs.

Analyst Michael Emerson of the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, characterizes some EU-Russian differences, particularly over Russian policies toward former Soviet Republics, as "deep." He says it's unclear exactly what kind of partnership accord will eventually be struck.

"There's a range of scenarios," said Emerson. "One is that it will result in a purely declaratory document or a framework document that will lead to further binding negotiations on concrete topics later. Or it could be a major negotiation seeking binding and substantive agreements on a whole range of economic and political issues. The EU wants the second, and I think Russia wants the first."

If it is realized, the new partnership agreement would replace an accord signed in 1997 when the issues facing the two sides were very different than they are today.