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EU ambassadors have agreed to start talks on a new EU-Russia
EU ambassadors have agreed to start talks on a new EU-Russia partnership deal, that expired in December 2007, an EU spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

"I confirm that the ambassadors have approved the issue of the mandate," the spokeswoman for current EU president Slovenia said, adding that the mandate was still to be approved by the 27 EU foreign ministers, who will meet in Brussels on May 26. But she went on to say "The mandate will be approved without discussion."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov quoted his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner as saying after talks in Moscow Wednesday, that the EU is set to approve the mandate in the next few days.

"Bernard Kouchner told us today that the European Union will be ready to approve a mandate for talks with Russia in the next few days," Lavrov said.

The issue will also be discussed in late June, when a scheduled Russia-EU summit is due to take place in Khanty-Mansiisk, West Siberia.

Lithuania vetoed talks on a new EU-Russia treaty at a foreign ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on April 29, demanding that Russia resume oil supplies, halted following an accident in 2006, through the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline, which previously pumped crude from Russia through Belarus to Lithuania's Mazeikiu nafta refinery.

Analysts said Russia stopped supplies because of Lithuania's decision to sell the Mazeikiu refinery to Polish oil company PKN Orlen, rejecting bids from Russia's LUKoil and Rosneft.

Lithuania has also demanded a solution to 'frozen' conflicts in Moldova and Georgia and that Russia cooperate in investigations into alleged attacks by Soviet troops on Lithuanians seeking independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Vilnius is also seeking compensation for the deportation of Lithuanians to labor camps during the Soviet era.

The talks were blocked by Poland until late last year after Russia imposed an embargo on imports of Polish meat.

Warsaw signaled its readiness to lift its veto after the two countries resolved the meat dispute and took steps to improve relations under the new Polish government last year. Russia resumed Polish meat imports in December 2007.

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