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Putin Pushes 'Road Map' In Historic Visit to Egypt

Associated Press
Wednesday, April 27, 2005; Page A17

CAIRO, April 26 -- Vladimir Putin on Tuesday made the first official visit to Egypt by a Russian leader in 40 years, focusing on efforts to revive the internationally backed plan for Middle East peace.

Putin and President Hosni Mubarak did not speak to reporters after their talks, but a spokesman for Mubarak said the main point of the meeting was the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Russia, along with the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, is a sponsor of the "road map" plan for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The plan, which aims to create a Palestinian state by 2005, has long been stalled since it was signed in June 2003, but it has shown signs of life under the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas.

Putin will go to Israel on Wednesday -- the first visit by a Russian or Soviet leader to that country also -- with hopes that his government can play a larger role in restarting the road map talks.

Putin and Mubarak will meet again Wednesday morning. Russian officials said the talks would cover Iraq, Lebanon and Syria and proposals to reform the United Nations.

Putin told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram that his visit was intended to bolster ties with a region where the former Soviet Union once wielded tremendous influence -- including backing Egypt and Syria in three wars against Israel before Moscow restored ties with Israel during the perestroika era.

Commercial ties between Russia and Egypt are growing. Last year, trade doubled, to $834 million. Putin's delegation includes Russian business executives who plan to meet Egyptian industrialists interested in Russian technology.

The last Kremlin chief to make an official state visit to Egypt was Nikita Khrushchev, who in 1964 inaugurated the first stage in the construction of the Aswan High Dam, which was partly financed and built with Soviet help.

The close ties between the two countries lapsed after the death in 1970 of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. His successor, Anwar Sadat, set Egypt on a pro-American track that accelerated under Mubarak.

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