European Union and Russian officials said Friday they were still hopeful of clinching a deal on illegal immigration as part of a new EU-Russia cooperation pact meant to be signed early next month.
The two sides sought to narrow differences at a meeting Friday and Justice Minister Luc Frieden of Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, said the EU and Russia were "very much on the same wavelength" on how to tackle illegal asylum seekers, thousands of whom make their way into the EU from Russia every year.
The issue continues to hold up the EU-Russia cooperation agreement that is supposed to be signed at an EU-Russia summit in Moscow May 10.
"We have to work together," he said, but warned a deal was not yet done, adding several key issues "remain to be clarified."
Viktor Ivanov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's deputy chief of staff, said the talks had yielded "a favorable result," adding an agreement was still possible before the summit.
The Russian delegation also included Interior Minister Rachid Nourgaliyev and Justice Minister Yuri Tchaika.
At a secluded golf resort, the EU side made clear it wants Moscow to be more active in combating illegal immigration. The EU said Russia had to sign a "readmission" accord - with the 25 nation bloc under which it takes back illegal migrants - before EU nations would even consider dropping visa travel restrictions for Russians.
EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattini said visa-free travel for Russians would only happen "in the longer term," years away.
Ivanov said there was a "very lively discussion" on the issue, saying Moscow wanted to have visa-free travel between the two sides now based on gradual implementation, but could not yet deliver on a readmission pact before it signs similar migrant return deals with its southern neighbors.
He said the two sides could as a stopgap reach a readmission deal only on Russian citizens, leaving the issue of non-Russian nationals for a later agreement, a proposal the EU has shot down.
"At this stage we can do this for Russian citizens but not for other citizens," said Ivanov. "This whole issue really hinges on the freedom of movement and in order to do that we have to guarantee security of individuals."
The EU has already signed "readmission" accords with Albania, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Macau.
CONSTANT BRAND, Associated Press Writer
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