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Poland Vetoes EU-Russia Talks on Partnership Accord

Russian and European Union leaders are gathering in Helsinki for a summit bound to be overshadowed by a Polish veto of Friday's scheduled launch of talks on a new EU-Russian partnership accord.

EU member Poland refused to approve the start of the new talks late Thursday, in retaliation for Moscow's ban on imports into Russia of Polish meat and other agricultural products.

Speaking on the eve of the summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a negotiated settlement of the ongoing trade dispute between the two sides.

Mr. Putin said Moscow does not object to Polish meat products, themselves. He said the problem is Poland's failure to screen banned meat products from third-party countries that pass through Poland and on to Russian consumers.

Earlier this week, Moscow threatened to block imports of all EU food products once Romania and Bulgaria join the union New Years Day, because of questions over quality.

The proposed partnership accord included provisions on energy, trade and human rights. The Europeans, who rely on Russia for one quarter of their gas supplies, want the pact to include Russian supply guarantees.

With the talks on hold, European and Russian delegations are expected to focus on diplomatic tensions between Russia and Georgia, nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea and the future of Serbia's Kosovo province.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency says Russian envoys will seek to extend the current partnership deal, which expires next month, until a new deal is reached.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.