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Europe warns Russia: Talks may be put off

European Union leaders warned Russia on Monday that talks on a wide-ranging political and economic agreement would be postponed unless Russian troops pull back from positions in Georgia.

The threat to delay talks this month on the “partnership and cooperation agreement” with Russia came after Britain and eastern European nations held out for a tougher line. But Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas effectively ruled out stronger sanctions.

“I think we found an excellent compromise (by) not going back to business as usual, but still making clear that we want to maintain contact with Russia,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

At a four-hour meeting, the leaders tasked EU officials to study alternative energy sources to reverse dependence on Russia, which supplies a third of the EU's oil and 40 percent of its natural gas.

Earlier, Russia warned the West against supporting Georgia's leadership, suggesting that the United States carried weapons as well as aid to the ex-Soviet republic and calling for an arms embargo until the Georgian government falls.

Meanwhile, Vice President Dick Cheney will reassure three former Soviet republics that the U.S. backs their pro-West aspirations in the highest-level American visit since last month's war between Russia and Georgia.

On his first trip to the region, Cheney left Monday for Azerbaijan and Georgia – crucial to the westward flow of energy via a corridor that bypasses Russia. He also will stop in Ukraine, whose desire to join NATO is opposed by Russia.

“Cheney's mission is to stiffen the spine” of the countries' leaders, said Mark Parris, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey who also served as a diplomat in Moscow.

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