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#17 - JRL 2008-122 - JRL Home
Russia, EU to address human rights, energy, conflicts

KHANTY-MANSIISK, June 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia and the European Union outlined areas of cooperation at a summit in West Siberia on Friday, including human rights, energy, and regional conflicts.

The participants in the two-day summit - President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Janez Jansa of Slovenia, who currently holds the EU presidency, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana - agreed to start talks on a long-overdue comprehensive cooperation agreement on July 4 in Brussels.

Barroso, who hailed the talks as "sincere and open," told a news conference that he hoped for a more constructive dialogue on human rights and free speech with Medvedev. He said the new agreement should "open a new chapter in our relations."

Relations between Europe and Russia soured under Medvedev's predecessor, Vladimir Putin, over a range of issues, including energy and democracy. Medvedev pledged in his inauguration speech in May to promote the rule of law, free speech and human rights.

Energy security has been another point of contention in Russia-EU ties. Europe has sought free access to Russian energy resources, and Russia, its key supplier of oil and gas, has looked for access to European distribution networks.

"Russia remains a key energy supplier for the EU - the EU will remain Russia's most important export market," Barroso said. "For both of us, as producers and consumers, energy security is paramount. In this era of high energy prices this is a message our citizens understand only too well."

Medvedev told the news conference that ambitious natural gas projects pursued by Gazprom would be implemented in time, and objections from several countries addressed. However, he warned against politicizing the Nord Stream project to supply gas directly to Germany via a pipeline on the Baltic Sea's floor.

The pipeline will bypass transit countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States, all countries with whom Moscow has had recent energy and other disputes. Sweden and Poland have voiced security and environmental concerns about the pipeline.

"This is a commercially beneficial, rather than political, project," Medvedev said. "We will press ahead with it - we will try to come to terms with the states that have been asking questions about it. We respect that."

Barroso said the EU would back Nord Stream if environmental concerns were allayed.

At a meeting with Medvedev in Germany, Angela Merkel said her country would continue promoting Nord Stream, which she called "strategically important" for the whole of Europe.

Solana, for his part, said the EU wanted a proactive role in the "frozen" conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, which both accuse Russia of backing their separatist regions. Solana said the sides had agreed to cooperate on the issue.

He also said the EU would take part in a conference on the Middle East peace process proposed by Moscow.

"We have talked about the Middle East, an important issue... After the General Assembly, we are going to have a meeting to push the process forward in the Middle East. It will take place in Moscow," Solana told the news conference.