Putin and Solana: Russia-EU deal close to completion

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Tuesday pledged to increase efforts to conclude a key Russia-EU agreement, planned to be signed in May.

"We are actively moving towards preparing documents that are scheduled to be signed on May 10 of this year in Moscow," Putin told Solana in his residence in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi, in remarks broadcast on Russian state-run television.

"As you said, our relationship is growing better and better and I am sure the summit we are going to have in a few weeks on May 10 would be a success," said Solana, who was to fly onto Moscow for a meeting later in the day with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The pact focuses on Russia-EU cooperation in four key areas: the economy, external security, justice matters and cultural affairs, including research and education.

Russian and EU officials failed to sign the pact during the previous summit in November and promised to conclude the deal in May. Among unresolved issues are visa arrangements, joint efforts to end conflicts in the Caucasus and Russia's practice of charging EU airlines when they fly over Siberia.

The 25-nation EU wants Russia to commit to taking back all illegal immigrants who try to enter the EU from Russia, whether or not they are Russian citizens. The EU has made this a condition for easing visa requirements for Russians in the EU, but Moscow has refused to agree to the practice.

Associated Press

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