A new round of talks on a comprehensive Russia-EU partnership deal opens in Moscow on Friday.

The agreement would replace the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which was extended for a year when it expired in December 2007. Talks on a new deal have been repeatedly delayed, initially by Poland and Lithuania and most recently over Russia''s August conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia.

Marc Franco, chief of the European Commission in Russia, earlier told RIA Novosti that negotiators, headed by EC director general of external relations Eneko Landaburu and Russia''s European Union envoy Vladimir Chizhov, would meet on Friday to assess the results of the activities of working groups.

He also said that Moscow and Brussels had made progress in their attempts to find a common position on the format and content of the document, and that working groups were now focusing on the deal''s more detailed points.

The diplomat said that while progress was being made, this did not mean that there was complete mutual understanding on all aspects of the deal, in particular human rights. He also added that the energy aspects of the agreement were important for both sides, but that it was unclear how the issue would be worded in the final document.

He also stressed that Russia''s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was essential for an understanding of many aspects of the final agreement. Russia is the largest economy outside the global trade body.

Russia also linked the partnership deal to its prospective WTO membership.

"If Russia is a member of the WTO when we round off our talks, then that will be quite a different situation from if it is not," Chizhov earlier told RIA Novosti.

Chizhov said approximately one-third of the current Russia-EU agreement covered issues regulated by WTO norms.

He also said he was satisfied with how the talks on the new deal were progressing.

"If we are talking about substance, then we are already close to being able to start the business of writing its text," he said, adding that while the sides still had differences over the final wording of the agreement, "the ground had been laid."

A decision to resume negotiations was made at the Russia-EU summit in Nice on November 14, despite objections from Lithuania.