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Medvedev seals strategic pact with Egypt

world Updated: Jun 23, 2009 21:12 IST

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a strategic cooperation pact with Egypt on Tuesday, the first day of a four-nation tour aimed at bolstering Moscow's influence in Africa and the Middle East.

Medvedev signed the 10-year agreement with President Hosni Mubarak, whose country has had historic political and military ties with Moscow and is Russia's largest trading partner in Africa.

The two leaders said in a joint declaration they were determined to coordinate "foreign policy positions and steps" and stressed the importance of reaching "a fair peace" in the Middle East.

They also said their two nations were committed to the "building of a new multipolar world order, which will be more democratic, fair and safe for all states," according to a copy of the declaration released by the Kremlin.

Medvedev descibed the pact as "very important," telling reporters it would define Egyptian-Russian ties "for years to come."

Mubarak praised Russia's influence in the Middle East and the world, adding that Cairo and Moscow were keen to boost cooperation in energy, trade and investments.

Medvedev's trip is the first visit to Africa by a Russian president for three years and comes in the wake of the landmark address to the Muslim world that US President Barack Obama gave in Cairo earlier this month.

Russia is keen to boost its diplomatic clout in the region, which used to be a stronghold of Soviet influence before the end of the Cold War and the subsequent surge of US dominance.

After his two-day visit to Egypt, Medvedev will make an ambitious foray into Nigeria, Namibia and Angola from Wednesday to Friday for talks to expand the country's economic footprint in Africa.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was also high on the agenda of talks between Medvedev and Mubarak, and the two leaders reiterated the importance of securing peace in the region through diplomatic efforts.

Russia has been trying for months to organise a Middle East peace conference in Moscow before the end of the year but has come up against scepticism from the United States and Israel.

Medvedev reiterated Russia's intention to host the conference in Moscow by year's end.

In an apparent effort to underscore the significance of Russia's ties with the Arab world, Medvedev was also set to address the Cairo-based Arab League and meet its chief Amr Mussa.

Mdevedev was also due to have a working dinner with senior members of the Egypt-Russia Association.

Russia, part of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet along with the European Union, the United Nations and the United States, is eager to strengthen its diplomatic and commercial influence abroad.

Since 2000, Egypt has benefited from a sharp increase in the number of Russian tourists, reaching 1.8 million last year and outnumbering visitors from western Europe.

With trade turnover of 4.1 billion dollars last year, Egypt is Russia's largest trading partner in Africa.

Russia has also expressed interest in a 1.5 billion-1.8 billion-dollar-tender to construct Egypt's first atomic power station that will resume the country's nuclear programme after a 20-year freeze.

Medvedev was due to visit key sites, including the Giza Pyramids, before leaving for Nigeria on Wednesday.