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Putin, Chirac, Schroeder Discuss EU-Russian Ties

Jacques Chirac, left, walks with Gerhard Schroeder, right, and their host, Vladimir Putin, center, to a joint news conference during a meeting in Svetlogorsk, some 40 kilometers from Kaliningrad

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed increased E.U.-Russian cooperation at a meeting Saturday with the leaders of France and Germany. The three gathered to mark the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave that is now surrounded by E.U. territory.

At the start of the meting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac, the Russian president said he was pleased to welcome his counterparts to Kaliningrad, and discuss a wide array of issues with them.

Mr. Putin said it was very important to hear the French and German opinions on the future relations between Russia and the European Union.

Other topics of discussion included reforming the United Nations, the Middle East and the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.

The leaders also were to discuss Kaliningrad's special status, which has become a thorn in E.U.-Russia relationship since the expansion of the European Union last year. Moscow has sought special rules for passenger and cargo transit across Lithuania between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia.

The enclave, on the Baltic Sea, is cut off from the rest of Russia by E.U. members Poland and Lithuania.

The European Union is Moscow's largest trading partner, accounting for more than half of its trade, while Russia is a major energy supplier for Europe.

French President Chirac said the relationship between Russia and the European Union is essential for world equilibrium. German Chancellor Schroeder said that the closer the relations are between Russia and the European Union, the better it is for the success of Kaliningrad.

The three leaders attended ceremonies marking the founding of Kaliningrad, which was called Koenigsburg when it was part of Germany's East Prussia State until Soviet troops took it over in 1945. The festivities, which were attended by the leaders of all of Russia's 89 regions, were meant to reassert Russia's commitment to this region, which has been separated geographically from the rest of Russia since the Soviet collapse.

The leaders of Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad's major trading partners, were not invited to the celebrations and criticized Moscow for leaving them out of the celebrations.

The Russian leader said the 750th anniversary of Kaliningrad was celebrated as an internal Russian event.