Merkel meets Putin for EU energy security talks

January 22, 2007 - 0:0
SOCHI, Russia (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Sunday for talks set to focus on securing guarantees for energy supplies to the European Union.

Merkel was the first foreign leader to visit Russia after an oil dispute between Russia and Belarus earlier this month that hampered supplies to western Europe and further eroded trust in Moscow as an energy partner.

The European Union depends on Russia for a quarter of its energy needs and EU leaders have announced plans to include energy guarantees in a new partnership agreement due to be worked out with Russia.

"Taking into account our good ... relations with Germany, we very much expect your presidency of the EU will help us build relations with other countries and the organisation as a whole," Putin told Merkel at the start of the meeting. During the oil row, Merkel had criticised Moscow's sudden suspension of oil deliveries through Belarus, saying: "That repeatedly destroys confidence and you cannot build cooperation based on true mutual trust in this way."

Germany has traditionally been Russia's main ally in the European Union and the two are key trade partners but relations appear cooler than under Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, who was openly friendly with Putin.

"The disputes with Ukraine and Belarus have raised concern. Moscow cannot be indifferent," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a recent interview with the German daily General Anzeiger.

"Escalations like the ones we have seen must be avoided," Steinmeier said.

Another issue on the agenda will be a timetable for partnership talks between the European Union and Russia, which have been held up by Warsaw in protest against a Russian ban on meat imports from EU newcomer Poland. Merkel said on Saturday that the issue of the embargo, which Russia says is due to food safety concerns, had been resolved. A Russian veterinary official said on Sunday that the row had been resolved "in principle."

Merkel and Putin were also expected to discuss efforts to revive the Middle East peace process and international diplomacy surrounding Iran's nuclear program, officials said.

Merkel is set to hold talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on the sidelines of the Davos economic forum in Switzerland on Wednesday and will meet King Abdullah II of Jordan on January 28.

On January 1, Germany assumed the six-month presidency of the 27-member EU and the chairmanship for 2007 of the Group of Eight major economies comprising Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.