EU ministers keep Russian partnership on hold
Despite pressure from some EU capitals, the union's foreign ministers stopped short of resuming talks on a new EU-Russia partnership treaty, temporarily put on ice in September due to Russia's military presence in Georgia.
"It is very difficult to flag up the exact date," said French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner when asked about prospects of the talks. Speaking in Luxembourg after a meeting of EU foreign ministers, he cited the dispute over two areas inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia as the reason for the current hesitation.
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The EU decided on 1 September to postpone negotiations on an EU-Russia strategic deal until Russian troops withdraw from Georgian territory "to the line preceding the start of hostilities" by 10 October.
According to today's ministerial conclusions, Russian troops have withdrawn from the zones adjacent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia - an essential additional step in the implementation of the agreements of 12 August and 8 September.
However, the fact that they continue to operate in the Akhalgori district and the upper Kodori valley - zones inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but previously controlled by Georgian authorities - is causing problems.
"It is a judgement call for the heads of state and governments," Mr Kouchner said, referring to an EU leaders' summit later this week (15-16 October).
The issue will also come up at the international talks in Geneva on 15 October - a platform designed to debate the future security in the breakaway regions and Georgian refugees' right of return.
According to media reports, the 27-nation bloc is split over when the union should put out its hand to Moscow. Germany and Italy are reported to be leading the camp of those who are lobbying for a speedy resumption of the strategic talks.
"We should think about whether we are doing ourselves a favour by stalling the negotiations," German deputy foreign minister Guenter Gloser was cited as saying by AP, adding the EU has "a strong interest in the partnership and co-operation agreement".
According to Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini, Russia has demonstrated a "constructive" attitude.
Meanwhile, a number of member states - namely Austria, the Baltic States, Poland, Sweden or the Czech Republic - claim the time is not ripe.