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France hopes for pact progress at EU-Russia summit

ST PETERSBURG, Russia (Reuters) - The European Union will discuss a timetable for resuming partnership talks with Russia at a summit next month, France’s Foreign Minister said on Tuesday.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner delivers a speech next to Georgia's Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze (L) at the start of the Georgia Donor's Conference at the EU Commission in Brussels, October 22, 2008. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Talks on a broad partnership and cooperation agreement, a blue-print for long-term relations between Moscow and Brussels, were put on hold after Moscow’s military intervention in Georgia in August.

After meeting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, France’s Bernard Kouchner said EU and Russian leaders would meet in the French city of Nice on November 13-14 to resume talks on the pact.

“They will fix a schedule at that date for advancing the partnership agreement,” Kouchner, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, told a news conference.

Kouchner, joined in Russia’s second city of St Petersburg by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said the Nice summit was expected to have a positive outcome.

Russia supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas while the EU is Russia’s biggest trading partner.

However, before the French Presidency of the EU can initiate moves to restart the talks, it has to get the go-ahead from EU foreign ministers, who will meet on November 10.

Members states disagree over whether Russia has done enough to merit restarting the talks.

But some EU diplomats traveling with the delegation to St Petersburg said they were hopeful that no country would try to block the resumption of negotiations.

Russian troops thrust into Georgia after Tbilisi’s forces tried to retake the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia, and pushed Georgian forces out of the enclave.

Western states condemned Russia’s action -- which included sending troops into undisputed Georgian territory -- as disproportionate. Russia said it had been obliged to act to prevent a genocide of the separatists by Georgia.

Writing by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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