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EU, Russian leaders begin summit
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European Union (EU) and Russian leaders began their summit Friday in the southern French city of Nice to discuss a whole range of issues, including Georgia, security in Europe and the current financial crisis.

The summit was held at a time when EU-Russia relations are soured by the Russia-Georgia military conflict and trade disputes between Russia and the EU.

EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed to resume negotiations with Russia on a framework agreement, creating favorable atmosphere for the EU-Russia summit. But thorny issues abound.

The EU attempts to come to agreement with Russia to resume the negotiations, hopefully in early December, said an EU official prior to the summit. EU leaders suspended the talks in September in response to Russia's military action in Georgia.

The EU will persuade Russia to give monitors from the EU and the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) access to Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The EU also wants full access of humanitarian experts and reconstruction aid experts in the two regions, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trade will be an important topic at the summit. Despite rapid growth in bilateral trade, there is "an unnecessarily long list of irritants," said the EU official. Thorny issues include Russia's insistence on demanding payments from EU airlines that use Russian airspace, or Siberian overflight rights; duties on Russian wood exports; Russian trade barriers on agricultural products; and delays in customs reform.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev is expected to discuss with EU leaders his proposal on a new European security architecture. But the EU member states are yet to reach consensus on this issue.

The two sides will also spent considerable time on the current financial crisis as the leaders will travel to Washington immediately after the Nice summit to attend a Group of 20 summit dedicated to the crisis.

(Xinhua News Agency November 14, 2008)

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