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Musharraf to Visit Moscow to Strengthen Ties - 2003-02-03

Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf will try to strengthen ties with Russia this week during a visit to Moscow. It will be the first visit by a Pakistani president in more than three decades.

Foreign Ministry officials say President Musharraf's three day visit will help improve bilateral economic, political and defense ties between Pakistan and Russia.

Relations between the two countries have been strained for years. Tensions arose during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s when Pakistan served as the main base for U.S.-backed Afghan rebels resisting the occupation.

Diplomatic ties deteriorated again in the late 1990s because Pakistan supported the ousted Islamic Taleban, while Moscow backed Afghanistan's opposition Northern Alliance.

Pakistani officials say they would like to begin a new chapter in their relations with Russia. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aziz Ahmed Khan, said Pakistan hopes that President Musharraf's visit will help remove past "misunderstandings."

"Actually it is circumstances like these, which provide you an opportunity to explain your point of view, to make others understand and remove the misgivings that they may have. So it will be an excellent opportunity to satisfy any concerns that Russians may have," Mr. Khan said.

A meeting between President Musharraf and President Putin is set for Wednesday. The two leaders are expected to sign several agreements on bilateral trade, energy exploration and cultural exchanges.

Officials say terrorism, nuclear security, and Pakistan's long-standing dispute with India over Kashmir will also be discussed.