The European Union and Russia said on Friday they had agreed on what areas should be covered by a wide-ranging partnership treaty without setting a deadline for it.
Russia and the European Union are looking to seal a new partnership but obstacles remain
Speaking after a first round of talks in Brussels on Friday, July 4, the two sides said negotiations on a new pact to replace an agreement signed in 1997 had been "positive" and fruitful but declined to set a timeframe to conclude the deal despite pressure from countries such as Germany.
"There is nothing more harmful for any negotiating process than a deadline," Russian envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov told a news conference with his EU counterpart, EU Commission Director General Eneko Landaburu.
Landaburu said he shared Chizhov's assessment. The two sides have agreed to meet again in September.
Shape of future treaty still unclear
The talks came a week after EU leaders met Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev in the Siberian oil town of Khanty-Mansiysk in a meeting hailed as turning a fresh page in often testy relations between Moscow and its European neighbors.
Relations between the two sides are currently governed by a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) which came into force in 1997. Both sides now say that it is time to agree a new treaty which would take into account Russia's new strength and the EU's recent enlargements.
The new treaty is to reflect Russia's rising power thanks to its energy reserves
The new agreement is meant to provide legally- binding rules on how Russia, Europe's biggest energy supplier, and the EU, Russia's biggest source of foreign direct investment, should deal with each other in practically all aspects of cooperation.
In May this year, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he hoped the new partnership agreement would be negotiated "within a clear timeframe," insisting Russia needed to provide reliable business conditions for foreign investors.
But the exact shape of any future agreement is still not clear and both sides differ on what form a new agreement should take. Russia wants a more general plan mapped on the one which expired last year, while the EU insists on a more detailed pact, with precise wording on energy and security issues.
Human rights and European defense cause problems
The EU is also under pressure from its electorates and some Eastern European members to make parts of any deal conditional on Russian improvements in areas such as human rights, political liberalization and relations with its neighbors, especially Georgia.
In the past, the Kremlin has replied to such calls by accusing the EU of breaching human rights -- especially those of Russians -- in its own member states, and of violating the sovereignty of Russia's ally Serbia over the issue of Kosovo.
There are also issues concerning the state of security in Europe and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and NATO enlargement.
Moscow froze the CFE treaty -- which sets limits on troops, tanks and other military hardware across the continent -- in December 2007 and is locked in a stand-off with Washington over US plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
Russia has also complained over NATO's proposed eastward expansion into Georgia.
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Medvedev has proposed a common security structure for Europe outside of NATO, arguing that neither the western Alliance nor the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were currently in a position to guarantee security for all of Europe.
"All issues of European security, including the planned US anti-missile defense, should be clarified together," Medvedev said recently while reiterating calls for a pan-European security conference including participation by the US.
EU hoping Medvedev will be more pro-Europe
The meeting last week in Khanty-Mansiysk gave the EU their first taste of Russian diplomacy under new President Medvedev.
The EU hopes Medvedev is more flexible than Vladimir Putin
EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said "Medvedev is very serious about cooperating more closely with the European Union."
Brussels-based diplomats hope Medvedev will prove a more flexible partner than his predecessor Vladimir Putin, whose bellicose line aggravated relations with the EU's post-Soviet member states.
Poland and Lithuania vetoed earlier attempts at an agreement because of bilateral trade rows and Russia's entanglement in the so-called frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova.
Medvedev has shown no inclination to exacerbate things, but press statements by his top advisors have criticized attempts by EU member states to "politicize" relations and manipulate the EU.