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Putin's UAE Trip Kindles Arab Ties

President Vladimir Putin on Monday held talks in the United Arab Emirates and stressed growing Russian influence in the Arab world, while taking a jab at U.S. policy on foreign investment. 

Putin and Emirates President Sheikh Khalifa al-Nahyan stated that relations between their countries were good and called for greater business ties, but no major deals were announced as a result of the talks.
Putin's visit to the country's capital, Abu Dhabi, underscored Russia's influence in the region, where the United States has come under fire from all sides over its occupation of Iraq. 

The trip comes seven months after Putin traveled to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Jordan -- all traditional U.S. allies. Both that trip and the current visit were the first by a Russian leader.
"We see our goal today in assisting [a peace] settlement in the region," Putin said during a meeting with al-Nahyan. "We are located close to the region and are interested in expanding the geography of our ties." 

Putin's globe-trotting trips, including this one, appear to gain him ground in areas where the United States has long been unchallenged, said Sarah Mendelson, a Russia policy expert and senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"Putin is advancing Russian foreign policy that seeks to, in some ways, either balance or push back U.S. policies," Mendelson said.
Taking advantage of a sharp decline in U.S. influence around the world and Russia's growing economic muscle, Moscow wants to become a key player on many serious issues, Mendelson said. 
Putin's stop came on his way back from Sydney, where he attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum and met with U.S. President George W. Bush over the weekend. 

Putin told al-Nahyan that both countries should build on their good political relations by cutting business deals. "We can and must do much in our economic ties," Putin said.
Al-Nahyan responded by describing bilateral relations as "brotherly" and expressing hope that the countries would discover new opportunities for cooperation.
During a news conference, Putin took a jab at U.S. legislation that limits foreign investment by requiring security services to investigate investment proposals and suggested that that Russia might retaliate.
Putin appeared to be referring to the Foreign Investment and National Security Act, which Bush signed into law in July. The legislation will strengthen the role of the director of national intelligence in conducting national security reviews on proposed foreign investment.
Putin called the U.S. law "a step away from a liberal economy" and said Russia's other trade partners were considering similar bills.
"If things keep going the same way, we will have to take appropriate measures to protect our interests," he said, Interfax reported. 

This fall, the State Duma is scheduled to consider a bill that defines strategic industries and limits foreign investment in them. The government has drawn up the bill in consultation with U.S. business leaders.
The U.S. law still leaves the country "very much open to foreign investments," Randi Levinas, vice president for policy and programs at the U.S.-Russia Business Council, said by telephone from Washington.
Despite his tough line on Russian-U.S. relations, Putin warmly repeated his invitation to Bush for a fishing session in Siberia, saying he was waiting for him to choose a time and a river.
"If such contacts did not bring me pleasure, I would not make such offers," Putin said in televised comments.
"The U.S. president and I have very good, friendly relations. I'm glad to spend my free time with him," Putin said. "And such meetings, of course, do not pass without consequences from a business point of view." 

Meetings between Russian and Emirates business leaders were scheduled as part of the visit, but their outcome had not been reported by late afternoon.
Discussions were to focus on energy, metals, transportation, defense and space, Putin's foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said ahead of the talks, Interfax reported. 

Agreements signed in Abu Dhabi included a commitment by Russia to repay Soviet-era debt of $580 million, Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said.
In another deal, the Federal Space Agency will launch a navigational satellite for the Emirates from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in 2008, said the agency's head, Anatoly Perminov.
The countries also agreed to increase charter flights for Russian tourists to the Emirates, Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said. Some 300,000 Russians fly there every year, he said.
The countries' security agencies signed an accord to exchange information in the fight against international terrorism, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said.
Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill thanked al-Nahyan for allotting land for an Orthodox church in the country, the first on the Arabian peninsula. 

Putin kicked off his visit by opening an exhibition of artifacts brought to the luxurious Emirates Palace from the Kremlin's Armory Chamber. The exhibition, titled "Arsenal of Russian Tsars," included swords seized from Ottoman soldiers, a steel and silver cap from 1630 and a 17th-century suit of armor, Bloomberg reported.
Wrapping up his visit, Putin said he would keep up vigorous work until the very end of his term, just like a professional hockey player. "We know how real professionals play to the last second," he said, Interfax reported. "I will work like that myself and will do my best to make sure that all ministers, the government and the administration work the same way."


(The Moscow Times 11.ix.07)

 
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