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Putin Tells East Asian Leaders Russia Wants to Expand Ties

Russia's President Vladimir Putin says his government wants to expand ties with the nations of East Asia. The Russian leader made the comments in an address to 16 leaders at the inaugural East Asia Summit in Malaysia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his government wants to join the East Asia Summit, and was told that East Asian nations are interested in increasing cooperation in trade, security, energy and education.

The East Asia Summit includes the 10 members of ASEAN - the Association of Southeast Asian

Nations - and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Mr. Putin spoke to the 16 leaders Wednesday during the first East Asia Summit, one day after Russia's first summit with the leaders of ASEAN.

The summit chairman, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, said the meeting with President Putin was productive. "With Russia, we had an opportunity to discuss international issues, the situation in the Middle East, and the situation on the Korean Peninsula," he said. "And that subject was also discussed with China, with [South] Korea and with Japan."

ASEAN and Russia signed agreements on a progressive partnership and on a plan of action to promote cooperation. Similar accords between ASEAN and other nations, such as China, Japan and South Korea, have led to negotiations on free trade agreements.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said because of Russia's importance on the world stage, it was important to upgrade its ties with Asia. "Russia could play a role with the advent of new global challenges, whether in the form of security or in the form of communicable disease, health, international terrorism, illegal cross-border activities, climactic changes," he said.

Some East Asian nations are also interested in Russia's expanding oil and gas production, while Asian economists see Russia as a potential market for Asian electronic and agricultural products.

The East Asia Summit's 16 nations represent one-half of the world's population and a fourth of the global economy. Some Asian leaders would like to see it evolve into a pan-Asia economic union, similar to those in Europe and North America.

However, ASEAN leaders underscore that the East Asia Summit is meant to be mainly a forum for dialogue. They say the ASEAN-Plus-Three group, which includes ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea, is to be the vehicle for the establishment of any East Asian community.