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Russia's foreign minister accused the European Union Thursday of dragging out strategic partnership talks
Russia's foreign minister accused the European Union Thursday of dragging out strategic partnership talks, which should not be linked to the issue of meat imports from Poland. Russia's ban on meat and other agricultural imports from Poland led the EU newcomer late last year to veto negotiations on a new trade and energy cooperation deal between Moscow and Brussels to replace the current partnership accord, which expires at the end of 2007. In November 2005, Russia imposed an embargo on Polish meat, claiming that meat from third countries was being imported as Polish produce. "Let us not link the veterinary problem with the issue of the EU-Russia strategic partnership," Sergei Lavrov said after talks with his Portuguese counterpart, Luis Amado, whose country assumes the rotating EU presidency in July 2007. He said the Russian delegation received a mandate to launch talks on the new agreement in November 2006. Lavrov also said the settlement of Russia-EU disagreements on Kosovo is insufficient to resolve the problem of Serbia's predominantly ethnic Albanian province, and he reiterated Russia's position that a decision on Kosovo should satisfy both Kosovar and Serbian authorities, and that it must be reached through negotiations. "We cannot ignore their [Belgrade's and Pristina's] opinions," the minister said. "[UN special envoy] Marti Ahtisaari has decided to ignore them [opinions], but I think he will fail," Lavrov said. Ahtisaari, a special UN envoy for talks on Kosovo, has proposed that the province be granted internationally supervised sovereignty, but Serbian authorities have strongly opposed the plan as threatening Serbia's national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Kosovo, which has a population of two million, has been a UN protectorate since NATO's 78-day bombing campaign against the former Yugoslavia ended a war between Serb forces and Albanian separatists in 1999. The Serbian parliament unanimously approved a resolution February 14 rejecting some provisions of the plan. Unlike Russia, NATO has made it clear that it favors independence for Kosovo, but a final decision will be up to the UN Security Council. Lavrov also called for broader consultations on the deployment of elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Central Europe. Washington has announced its intention to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, citing possible threats from Iran or North Korea as a reason for the program, and will soon begin consultations with these countries. "I believe this [missile shield] issue is so important for all Europeans that the relevant discussions should be conducted in a broader context," Lavrov said. He condemned the current U.S. military exercise in the Persian Gulf, which he said will aggravate an already complicated situation in the region.
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