ISLAMABAD, Nov 16: Pakistan and Russia have decided to expand and intensify political as well as economic cooperation as a step towards their common goal of developing a strategic partnership.

This was the overriding message conveyed by visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri at a joint press conference after their formal talks here on Thursday.

“We are ready to broaden and diversify mutually advantageous cooperation,” declared Mr Lavrov, while underscoring that Russia attached great importance to her relations with Pakistan, a country playing a significant role both in the region and in the Islamic world as a whole.

In this context, he pointed out that they had agreed to promptly promote the launching of the mechanism of Inter-governmental Commission on Trade, Economic and Scientific Cooperation for early implementation of projects already agreed upon between the two sides.

DEFENCE: When asked about the prospects of defence cooperation between the two countries, the Russian foreign minister did not rule out the possibility, saying: “We would be ready to consider the possibilities of such cooperation depending on specific requests.”

Articulating his country’s broad policy, he noted: “As far as the issue of defence cooperation is concerned, we take an approach based on international commitments, based on the legislation of the Russian Federation with other partners; and within this framework, we are discussing things with governments of the region.”

SCO: Mr Lavrov was non-committal on the question of whether Russia would support Pakistan’s request for full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organistaion (SCO) once the regional security grouping decided to go for its expansion. He just left it at the fact that the SCO member states were still in the process of developing rules for observers applying for the membership. However, he made it clear that once the rules were drawn up they would be applicable to all observers.

STRATEGIC: To another question, Mr Lavrov noted that his visit to Pakistan and the regular contacts between the two countries had laid the basis of a strategic partnership.

“The sooner we follow through in practical terms on the agreements reached, the closer we get to that goal,” he added.

Emphatically endorsing this view, Mr Kasuri declared that the relationship between the two countries was ‘very close’ today.

OPPORTUNITIES: The Russian foreign minister expressed interest in building of business ties with Pakistani partners in areas such as oil and gas, electric power and metallurgy.

Mr Kasuri pointed to the “excellent opportunities for joint collaboration” that existed in upstream and downstream projects in oil and gas sectors; expansion of railways; and construction of coal thermal and hydel power generating stations.

Mr Kasuri said he had discussed at length with his Russian counterpart the possibility of developing rail links with Iran and other areas in the SCO region from Pakistan.

“I explained to him that we are also very keen to develop rail links to Central Asia from Gwadar and Russia has shown some interest in this area,” he said.

Expressing satisfaction at the steady growth in the multi-dimensional relationship with Russia, he stated: “We consider Russia as an engine for increased economic growth and a factor of peace and stability in the SCO region.”

He pointed out that bilateral trade between Pakistan and Russia had more than doubled last year to over $500 million.

IPI: Welcoming Russia’s strong political and economic interest in Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) pipeline project, Mr Kasuri said: “We are considering Russian participation in the project.”

Later, talking to a group of newsmen after the Press conference Mr Kasuri said the Russian foreign minister had shown a lot of interest in IPI pipeline as Russia would like its gas company Gazprom to have a role in it.

“I said as far as Pakistan is concerned, we are open to business, our processes are transparent and any Russian company would be welcomed,” Mr Kasuri disclosed.

TERRORISM: Describing his talks with Mr Kasuri as ‘quite substantive’, the Russian foreign minister said they also discussed the potential for strengthening cooperation on multilateral basis in combating international terrorism and other real threats to security and sustainable development in South and Central Asia.

Mr Lavrov stated that Russia and Pakistan had also decided to upgrade their dialogue on terrorism within the framework of the Joint Working Group on counter-terrorism.

He acknowledged and appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to curb terrorism and the activities of extremists. He expressed concern over the presence of Al Qaeda elements and Taliban in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, he was confident that the continued pursuit of these elements would put an end to the movement of extremists and militants.

OTHER ISSUES: Referring to his ‘extensive and useful’ interaction with the Russian foreign minister, Mr Kasuri said: “We had constructive and fruitful discussions today.” He said besides bilateral matters they also discussed Indo-Pakistan peace process, the Kashmir issue, war against terrorism, Afghanistan, Central Asia, the Middle East process, Iraq and Iran.

AFGHANISTAN: To a question on Afghanistan, Mr Kasuri said: “We are very disturbed by the current situation in Afghanistan.”

He underlined the need for adopting a holistic, consensus-building approach and said: “Both Pakistan and Russia are committed to doing what they can to help stabilise Afghanistan.”

The Russian foreign minister was also convinced that sustainable and durable settlement in Afghanistan was only possible on the basis of agreements reached at the April 2004 Berlin conference that called for representation of all ethnic groups in the power structures.

To a question about the presence of Nato forces in Afghanistan, he said: “We are convinced that the timeframe of the presence of multinational forces in Afghanistan has to be decided by the Afghan government and the Afghan people.”

Referring to the increasingly intensive interaction between the two countries at the political fora including the SCO, Mr Lavrov said both shared similar positions on key international issues. In this context, he specifically mentioned the overall strengthening of the role of the UN and other international organisations on the basis of the international law.

PEACE WITH INDIA: Commenting on the Pakistan-India peace process in his opening statement, the Russian foreign minister noted: “We have observed with satisfaction the progress reached in the development of the Pakistan-India relationship, and Russia supports all the activities which are meant in direction of further bringing forward this process.”

Both the foreign ministers mentioned that Russian President Putin would visit Pakistan in the near future, indicating that they agreed to work on the ‘substantive part’ of his upcoming visit.

In this connection, Mr Kasuri would also visit Moscow next year on the invitation of his Russian counterpart.

MIDDLE EAST: The Russian foreign minister said he had detailed discussions with Mr Kasuri on the crisis and conflict situation in the Middle East and they agreed to promote interaction between Palestine and Israel for a settlement.

“Russia believes that it is urgent that the next meeting of the four international quartet on Middle East be convened promptly, with the participation of the leading countries of the region, the Arab countries and both Palestine and Israel,” he stated.

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