Source AP ©

Putin to discuss issues of strategic partnership with EU in Portugal

Russian President Vladimir Putin met Friday with senior European Union officials for a summit that was expected to yield little progress on long-standing disputes.

The talks were to focus on a range of obstacles standing in the way of a planned strategic partnership agreement that seeks to deepen ties between Russia and the 27-nation union.

However, relations between Moscow and the EU have turned frosty in recent years due to quarrels over trade, energy, human rights, Balkan conflicts and other issues.

Just two minor deals were expected to be announced after the two hours of talks. One aims to increase cooperation in the fight against drug use and trafficking, and the other is to let Russia raise steel exports to Western Europe.

Putin began talks Friday with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, at an 18th-century baroque palace in Mafra, a small town about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Lisbon.

Before Putin's departure from Moscow, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, Russia's special envoy for EU relations, said of the summit: "We don't want to listen to any lectures."

However, Russian officials say they are optimistic about the resolving one issue that has kept Moscow and Brussels from signing a new cooperation agreement - meat imports from Poland.

A two-year Russian ban on Polish meat imports has led Warsaw to veto a new agreement with Russia. But the outcome of last weekend's elections - in which a pro-business, pro-European bloc defeated the Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski - could ease the situation.

Even so, there are major hurdles to agreement between the two sides, including key trade and foreign policy issues.

Putin arrived in the Portuguese capital Lisbon on Thursday and in his first news conference appeared to criticize new U.S. sanctions against Iran.

The Russian leader also warned against supporting Kosovo's independence, another difficult issue between Russia and the West. Moscow opposes a Western-backed plan to grant the province internationally supervised independence from Serbia.

Putin met Thursday with Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva and praised the warm welcome he said he received.

"I consider that the good-neighbor atmosphere that has been created here by our hosts and that now characterizes our bilateral relations will be translated to the EU-Russia summit ... and will contribute to the achievement of a positive result," Putin said.

"During Portugal's EU presidency we will do everything we can to deepen cooperation and dialogue (with Russia) so as to forge a climate of understanding and mutual respect," Cavaco Silva told reporters. "I'm sure the Mafra summit will contribute toward that aim."

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