MOSCOW - Russian President Vladimir Putin and the emir of Qatar pledged Tuesday to strengthen relations between their countries and between Russia and the Arab world as a whole.
"We have followed the changes in your country closely and know of the high respect for you in the Arab world," Putin told Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. "We view the meeting today as the continuation of Russia's policy toward strengthening relations with the Arab world, even more so as you have been elected chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference."
Sheik Hamad arrived in Moscow on Monday for talks on topics including the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the situation around Iraq and the postwar order in Afghanistan.
"Qatar has always striven for strengthening relations with the Russian Federation, which has traditionally been a supporter and ally of the Arab world," Sheik Hamad said. "I have come to Russia to further strengthen bilateral relations. I am aware of the important changes that have taken place in Russia, which also had their impact on its foreign policy."
Russia is a key arms supplier to some Arab states, and its oil interests have kept it a vocal advocate of easing sanctions against Iraq. But Moscow's ties with the Arab world have weakened over the past decade as it improved ties with Israel, where about one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union live.
Kremlin officials said the talks focused on prospects for developing closer economic ties, particularly in the energy sphere. Russia and Qatar hold natural gas reserves that are among the world's largest.
"We are pinning great hopes on this visit in the context of developing bilateral relations and filling them with practical content," Putin told Sheik Hamad.
Russian and Qatari officials also discussed the situation around Iraq, and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reaffirmed that Iraq must let international monitors check whether it dismantled all its mass destruction weapons - the condition for lifting international sanctions.
Russia recently acceded to U.S. pressure to limit the scope of so-called dual-use items Iraq can import under the United Nations sanctions regime, but Moscow continues to insist on an end to the sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
Gennady Seleznyov, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, told Sheik Hamad on Tuesday that Russia would do everything possible to prevent bombing of Iraq, ITAR-Tass reported. Russian politicians fear that Iraq is next on the list of nations that could be targeted in the U.S.-led anti-terrorist campaign.