The European Union and Russia will set no deadline for agreeing a wide-ranging partnership pact, their negotiators said on Friday, despite pressure from countries such as Germany for a quick deal.
Speaking after the first negotiating round in Brussels, the two sides said that they had agreed on what areas should be covered by the new pact, due to replace a 10-year-old agreement signed in 1997.
But they left open how long the talks would take, and what structure any deal encompassing trade, energy cooperation, joint justice initiatives and cultural dialogue would have.
"There is nothing more harmful for any negotiating process than a deadline," Russian envoy to the EU Vladimir Chizhov told a news conference with his EU counterpart, EU Commission Director General Eneko Landaburu.
Landaburu said that he shared Chizhov's assessment.
Russia is Europe's biggest energy supplier and the EU is the biggest source of foreign direct investment, but post-Cold War relations have often been testy and the negotiations are an attempt to turn a fresh page.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in May that he hoped the new partnership agreement would be negotiated "within a clear timeframe", insisting Russia needed to provide reliable business conditions for foreign investors.
Russian and EU leaders gave the green light for the negotiations to go ahead at a summit in Siberia last month. The talks were already delayed by 18 months by wrangling within the EU over the negotiating mandate.
The exact shape of any future agreement is still not clear. Chizhov reaffirmed Russia's preference for drafting a concise, legally binding framework deal with separate sectoral pacts, but Landaburu said the EU did not see the question as a priority.
"What is important is to have something which in substance will be better than the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which we have so far ... At the end of the day we will see whether it is short or long, this is not a priority," Landaburu said.
He said that his next meeting with Chizhov would be in September.