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Mideast, energy on Russia-EU agenda
by Staff Writers
Nizhny-Novgorod, Russia (UPI) Jun 9, 2011

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Although this week's EU-Russia summit is designed for "feel-good" measures, it may also strengthen cooperation on the Middle East and energy, officials say.

The two-day meetings in Nizhny-Novgorod, Russia, are officially about low-level deals on migration and the modernization of Russian businesses.

But Russian and European officials in indicated in the run-up to the summit there would also be discussions of much more substantive issues affecting the geopolitical and security interests of both parties.

One of those issues is the Middle East, where a consensus between Moscow and Brussels seems to developing regarding last month's declaration by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that it is willing to work with the rival Fatah faction to produce a unity government.

Hamas, regarded as a terrorist group by the United States and Israel, has agreed to accept an Israeli state based on 1967 borders. It also has offered to call a truce with Israel and recognize past international pacts as part of a deal to govern the Palestinian Territories with Fatah.

The United States and Israel have cautioned Fatah against accepting the offer, noting that Hamas still calls for the destruction of Israel in its charter. But Russia and the EU disagree, with Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, telling reporters Tuesday the two governments are close in their positions and will discuss the issue in Nizhny-Novgorod.

"The Russian position is closer to the EU position than the U.S. position," Chizhov said, the EUobserver reported. "We've expressed the need to foster Palestinian unity, because without that no progress whatsoever is possible."

Chizhov said EU Foreign Relations Minister Catherine Ashton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are seeking to issue a communique about the Hamas-Fatah situation during the summit.

Ashton has said the EU is willing to deal with Hamas if the militant group sticks by the terms of its offer -- something that hasn't gone down well in Washington, Chizhov said, adding he doesn't think it's enough to torpedo "the Quartet" -- the EU, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, which are mediating Mideast peace efforts.

"I don't think there is an immediate danger of the collapse of the Quartet," he told the publication. "There is a divergence of views."

Meanwhile, energy cooperation between the EU and Russia will also be on the table at the Nizhny-Novgorod meeting.

"Energy is a perennial topic, and Russia hopes to draw on European experience of developing new fuels and finding long-term solutions to wastage problems," Chizhov told the Voice of Russia.

Also to be discussed, he said, is Russia's opposition to the EU's efforts at persuading Moscow to break up its state-owned oil and gas monopoly Gazprom into production and transportation segments in order to boost competition, as called for in the EU's "Third Energy Package," passed in 2009.

Russia will also support stress tests on Russian and European nuclear power plants in the wake of March's Fukushima, Japan, nuclear disaster.

The summit also could see a further exploration of EU Energy Commissioner Gunter Oettinger's invitation to Russia to become part of Europe's long-range energy planning efforts.

A Russian government spokesman told Europolitics.com that Oettinger issued the invitation to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin Monday in Moscow while they were meeting to discuss preparations for the 10th anniversary of the EU-Russia Energy Dialogue.

Oettinger proposed the ongoing dialogue could serve as a platform to include Moscow as the EU maps out its energy strategy until 2050. Oettinger reportedly said the strategy should take Russia's experience and mutual interests into account.

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