Russia has signed an agreement with Southeast Asian nations as part of a series of steps aimed at strengthening ties between the former communist state and one of the world's most economically vibrant regions. The economic cooperation accord was signed as Asian foreign ministers met to prepare next week's East Asia Summit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed the agreement Saturday saying it would form the basis of growing ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN.

Malaysian Foreign Minister noted that Russia is a major power and its influence should be recognized by ASEAN. "We must give due importance and emphasis on upgrading this relationship to a level not purely just looking at the political and security cooperation, but to a more diverse relationship and cooperation," said the foreign minister.

He said cooperation is envisioned in trade and investment, science and technology, research and development, as well as the new global challenges such as international terrorism, climate change, communicable diseases and transnational crime.

The foreign ministers also welcomed the signing by Australia of the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, which allows Australia to participate as a founding member of the East Asia Summit on Wednesday.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia previously declined to sign the treaty because it felt the accord contravened other of its international defense treaties. "We've negotiated an understanding with the ASEAN countries to the extent where we feel we can sign the treaty without it disrupting our relationship with countries beyond the region, in particular, of course, the United States of America," said Alexander Downer.

The East Asia Summit is to bring together the leaders of ASEAN and six major nations in the region: China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Together they represent one-half of the world's population and one-third of the global economy.

Mr. Syed said Burma's foreign minister had taken note of criticism by ASEAN ministers over its lack of progress toward democracy, but had replied that the military government in Rangoon would proceed with a road map it announced two years ago.

The Malaysian foreign minister said ASEAN leaders want to see more progress.  "We say there must be progress," said Mr. Syed. "There must be some tangible thing. Having a road map is very good. We congratulate them [on] having a road map. But they need to do something more that will enable us to speak on their behalf."

He said such progress should include a timetable and moves to include all political forces in the democratization process, including detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.