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    RUSSIA, EUROPEAN UNION PREPARING JOINT COMMUNIQUE ON EU EXPANSION

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    BERLIN, APRIL 1, 2004, (RIA NOVOSTI). - Russia and the European Union are preparing a joint communique that will reflect Moscow's concerns in the face of EU expansion, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday.

    According to Lavrov, issues related to the prospective enlargement of the EU were discussed in the course of bilateral meetings with his European counterparts on the sidelines of the latest international conference on Afghanistan, hosted by Berlin.

    "It is necessary [to make sure] that EU expansion does not have any negative implications for Russia's interests," Lavrov emphasized. He said EU-Russian trade controversies had almost all been resolved after Economics Minister Herman Gref's negotiations with European counterparts. The only as yet unsettled issue concern is that of cargo transits to the Kaliningrad region (Russia's enclave on the Baltic Coast), but there are grounds to believe that it will eventually be resolved, said Lavrov.

    The minister said it was still unclear what would become of the effective economic agreements between Russia and the would-be member states. Another outstanding issue was the infringement on Russian speakers' rights in the three Baltic states (Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania ) that used to be part of the Soviet Union.

    The sides' commitments to solving these contentious issues should find its reflection in the joint communique now in the works, Lavrov said. If the communique comes forth now, the protocol to the EU-Russia Partnership & Cooperation Agreement, which would extend this accord to the accession nations, will be possible to sign by May 1 (the date when the EU will take in ten new members, including the three Baltic states, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta, and Cyprus), he said.

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