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Musharraf in Moscow to Improve Pakistan-Russia Relations - 2003-02-04


Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, will hold three days of talks this week in Moscow about strengthening bilateral relations with Russia. General Musharraf and President Vladimir Putin are also expected to sign a number of economic and defense agreements this week.

It has been more than 30 years since a Pakistani leader has traveled to Moscow. President Musharraf hopes the visit will begin a new era of warmer relations between his country and Russia.

In an interview with Russia's Izvestia newspaper, General Musharraf said he planned to discuss with President Putin why relations between Islamabad and Moscow were not, as he put it, as close as he would like them to be.

Tensions between Russia and Pakistan date back to the 1980's, as troops of the former Soviet Union occupied Afghanistan in a war that would drag on for years. Throughout the war, Pakistan supported rebels fighting the Soviet troops, putting the two nations at odds.

In the Izvestia interview, General Musharraf stressed that he did not want his country's relations with Russia to be linked to Moscow's ties with other nations like Afghanistan or India.

Three weeks ago, India announced the signing of a new military protocol with Russia, its main weapons supplier. The agreement calls for India and Russia to jointly develop an advanced fighter jet and supersonic cruise missiles.

General Musharraf, who meets Wednesday with President Putin, says he hopes to secure accords with Moscow on trade and energy exploration. An agreement also is likely to be reached to restructure Pakistan's debt to Russia and the terms of its repayment. The Pakistani leader is also expected to try to allay Moscow's concerns over the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenals from terrorists.

Meanwhile, officials in Moscow say they are looking to secure cooperation in aerospace, especially the launch of Pakistani satellites aboard Russian rockets.

During their talks, General Musharraf and President Putin also are expected to discuss Kashmir, over which Pakistan and India have fought two wars.

In the Izvestia interview, General Musharraf also noted that Pakistan would remain neutral in the event of a U.S.-led military operation against Iraq. He mirrored Russia's stance that force should only be used after securing approval from the U.N. Security Council.

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