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EU to end freeze on Russia talks

French EU monitors in Georgia
EU monitors have been assessing the situation in Georgia

European Union foreign ministers have decided to resume partnership talks with Russia, despite failing to reach unanimous agreement.

Lithuania, the former Soviet republic, remains unconvinced, saying the decision is a "mistake".

The EU suspended talks over Russia's intervention in Georgia, and Lithuania argues it has still not fully met the terms of the truce and withdrawn.

But the 26 other EU members agreed it was time to re-engage with Moscow.

"We have found a good way to proceed," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, after the foreign ministers met in Brussels.

"We think it is time to resume the talks."

'Pragmatic' move

It followed a statement by the British and Swedish governments - who have been among the sternest critics of Russia in the EU - saying: "We need and want to work with Russia."

The two countries, among the sternest critics of Russia in the EU, said a resumption of talks would not mean a return to "business as usual".

But, they said, negotiations were "a pragmatic way of pursuing our interests across a range of important issues, like energy, climate change and trade."

However, they agreed that Russia had not completely fulfilled the terms of an the EU-brokered ceasefire, which called on Russian and Georgian troops to return to positions held before the war in early August.

Russia still has more troops in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region than it had before the conflict.

Lithuania maintained that the talks should remain frozen.

"We think this is a mistake. History will show who was right and who was not," Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Zygimantas Pavilionis told the AFP news agency.

But Lithuania acknowledged that it could not veto the partnership talks, which will cover political, economic and trade relations.

Talks on the new agreement are now expected to resume some time after an EU-Russia summit in Nice on Friday.

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