LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers differed on a possible restart of partnership talks with Russia Monday as questions remained over whether Russia had fully complied with a ceasefire pact with Georgia.
EU President France, backed by Germany, advocates an early relaunch of talks on a broad partnership agreement that were frozen after Russia’s incursion into Georgia in August.
They would like to see a decision as early as Wednesday’s EU summit in Brussels but Britain, Sweden and some ex-communist states say the bloc should not rush.
Moscow last week pulled out of buffer zones adjacent to the rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, before an October 10 deadline in the French-brokered ceasefire. EU leaders said last month that the withdrawal was a condition to restart the talks.
“I was there two days ago and the Russians had withdrawn. Beyond South Ossetia and Abkhazia, there are no more Russian soldiers in Georgia,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said before a meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg due to hear reports from EU observers on the ground.
But he said only two or three points of the six-point peace plan had so far been fulfilled and declined to say if this was enough to resume the partnership talks.
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Russia had a constructive attitude and he believed the resumption of the talks should be announced during an EU-Russia summit on November14.
“We must consider whether we are doing ourselves any favors with this standstill in negotiations,” Germany’s Europe Minister Guenter Gloser said.
The partnership pact between the 27-nation bloc and its largest energy supplier covers everything from trade to delicate areas such as human rights.
Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn said Russia was complying with the spirit of the ceasefire and called for an early restart of the negotiations. Others insisted ties with Russia were at a crossroads and that any decision should not be taken lightly.
Asked whether he believed the Russians had pulled back to pre-conflict positions in Georgia as requested by the West, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said:
“I don’t think they have if you look on the map…They have made some withdrawals, primarily from the buffer zones but there are areas they occupy now where they were not on Aug 7.”
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the partnership issue could be addressed in due course.
“But at the moment I think we should be focusing on ensuring that all those elements that were agreed in September including the Geneva talks get going with proper speed,” he added, referring to talks due to start in Geneva on October 15.
“It is the larger picture we have to take into account,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik.
Progress made in peace talks between Georgia and Russia on October15 would also be a factor, she said.
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the bloc first needed to proceed to a complete overview of its relations with Russia.
“We are not yet ready,” she said