Putin in Portugal for EU-Russia summit

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LISBON, Oct 25 (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes for a friendly summit with the European Union tomorrow but is sticking to long-held tough positions on Iran and Kosovo.

''On many (international) issues our positions are close,'' Putin said after meeting Portuguese President Anibal Cavaco Silva, whose country will host the EU-Russia summit.

''I expect a friendly atmosphere created by our hosts today will translate into a similar atmosphere of the Russia-EU summit tomorrow and will help a productive work,'' Putin told reporters.

This could be the last EU-Russia summit for Putin before he steps down in May. Putin cannot stand in the March presidential election but analysts say he is likely to maintain political influence after he goes.

Putin also met with Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

Relations between Russia and the bloc have been beset by rows over trade, energy, Russia's human rights record and the future of Serbia's Kosovo province.

Cavaco Silva said everything possible would be done ''to strengthen the cooperation and dialogue between Russia and the EU'', noting it was ''fundamental to create a climate of mutual trust.'' Putin gave no indication of swerving from Moscow's strong backing of Serbia's efforts to prevent independence for Kosovo.

He also voiced his objection to more sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme.

Referring to Kosovo, he said Russia's position was based on the ''principle of territorial integrity'' and said: ''Why should we further destabilise international law, encourage separatism.'' On Iran, he reiterated his opposition to further sanctions against the country over suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.

At an EU-Russia business meeting earlier, Russian Economy Minister Elvira Nabiullina urged the EU to back Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organisation, saying ''delays in increasing the EU-Russia relationship has to do with Russia not joining the WTO''.

Brussels has refused to sign off on Russia's WTO bid as it feels Russia has not implemented a 2004 bilateral WTO accession deal, especially by failing to cut export duties on timber.

Another point of discussion at the summit will be a proposal by the European Commission on the energy sector, including a break up of big utilities' grip on power supply, generation and transmission.

The plan includes a clause to prevent foreign firms from buying pipelines and power grids if their home countries do not have equally open markets and an agreement with Brussels, something seen as targeting Russian state energy giant Gazprom.

Reuters AB VP0015

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