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Russia and the European Union countries will hold three high-level meetings by the end of 2006
Russia and the European Union countries will hold three high-level meetings by the end of 2006, a Kremlin aide for relations with the EU said Wednesday. "These six months when Finland will be presiding over the EU are expected to be very busy," Sergei Yastrzhembsky said. He said there would be at least three meetings between senior officials and the countries' leaders by the end of the year. So far, Russia and the EU have held two summits a year - first in Russia in spring and the second one in the country presiding over the EU in the fall. Yastrzhembsky said the traditional annual Russia-EU summit would be held in late November in Helsinki, but added that the EU had proposed holding another informal summit on Europe's energy security in Lahti in south Finland in fall, which would make three summits a year. "This initiative of the EU... was welcomed [in Russia]," Yastrzhembsky said. The Kremlin aide said the meeting in Lahti suggested a "totally new format indicating that the EU is seeking to intensify relations with Russia, above all in the energy sector." Russia has declared energy security its priority during the 2006 presidency in the Group of Eight industrialized nations, with half of them being members of the EU. Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States will gather in Russia's St. Petersburg in mid-July. The Kremlin aide said Russia also expected an answer to its proposal to hold a routine meeting between the Russian government and the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. In comments on the EU's initiative to create a free trade zone with Russia, Yastrzhembsky said it could only be clarified or discussed after talks on Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization were over. The EU put forward the proposal during the Russia-EU summit in Sochi, a Russian Black Sea resort, in May. "We obviously have to clarify the idea and the substance of the proposal, and decide when an agreement can be drafted - before or after Russia completes talks on the WTO," Yastrzhembsky said, adding that Russia needed to be clear on what the EU meant by a free trade zone. Russia has concluded bilateral negotiations and signed protocols with 57 members out of the 58-member Working Party on WTO accession. Talks with the U.S. have been complicated over a number of issues, including access to Russia's banking sector, intellectual property rights, import duties, and agricultural subsidies. President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that Russia would revoke all obligations it had assumed during bilateral negotiations on joining the WTO if it failed to reach agreement with the U.S. on its WTO bid.
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