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Serbian Min. Defends Deal With Russia  09/25 08:09

   

   BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) -- Serbia's foreign minister on Sunday sought to play 
down the importance of an agreement with Russia after the Balkan state that is 
seeking European Union membership faced criticism for signing it.

   Nikola Selakovic signed the agreement Friday along with Russian Foreign 
Minister Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in 
New York, where most Western delegations shunned Russia's top diplomat over the 
country's invasion of Ukraine.

   =Selakovic said at a news conference Sunday that the agreement is a 
"technical" one and relates to bilateral ties, but not security issues. Serbia 
has been signing similar documents with Russia since 1996, Selakovic insisted.

   "The government could have rejected such a plan but there is nothing 
contentious in it," he added. "It is being criticized by those who haven't seen 
it."

   The consultation plan covered by the agreement is expected to last for two 
years, Serbia's foreign ministry said in a Friday statement. Serbia officially 
is a candidate for European Union membership, but the government maintains good 
relations with Russia.

   The news of the deal triggered harsh criticism from the pro-EU opposition at 
home and some EU politicians. A member of the European Parliament from Germany, 
Viola von Cramon, suggested the possible suspension of EU accession talks with 
Serbia.

   "This is a serious scandal," von Cramon said on Twitter. "In the midst of 
raging war, (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) Serbia signs the plan on future 
collaboration with the aggressor."

   Von Cramon added that "maybe it's just a signal for us to freeze the EU 
accession talks as entering the EU does not go through Moscow."

   Another European Parliament member, Vladimir Bilcik from Slovakia, described 
the agreement with Russia as a "serious blow" to the accession process in the 
Western Balkans.

 
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