MOSCOW, Feb 4: President Gen Pervez Musharraf arrived here on Tuesday for a landmark visit aimed at strengthening ties between the two countries.

A. Zorin, Russian minister without portfolio, and Pakistan Ambassador to Russia, Iftikhar Murshid, received President Musharraf and his 33-member delegation at the Vnukvo Airport around 3pm (local time) amid below freezing (minus 22) temperature.

“What hopes do you pin on this visit?” a Russian journalist standing along with the media team covering the arrival at the airport, asked President Musharraf as he was walking towards the reception line after inspecting the guard of honour.

“Good hopes,” the president replied.

The simple but impressive airport ceremony was over within half an hour and the president along with his entourage left for hotel.

Since the official visit would begin on Feb 5, the president and members of his entourage spent Tuesday evening visiting the Kremlin Cathedral Square.

Accompanied by Mrs Sehba Musharraf, the president also witnessed Opera performance at the famous Russian Bolshoi theatre and then attended a dinner hosted by Ambassador Murshid at his embassy residence.

According to schedule, the president on Wednesday will visit Kremlin Armoury and Diamond Fund. He will also visit the Monument of the Unknown Soldier and lay a floral wreath there. He will begin his official visit with an hour-long meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin around noon. The meeting will be followed by official talks between the two sides led by President Musharraf and President Putin.

The two sides will also sign four agreements in the Red Hall which will be followed by a press briefing by the two presidents.

President Musharraf will meet the editorial board of Izvestia at the headquarters of the newspaper at around 4pm on Wednesday and then visit the Russian Duma where he will meet its chairman.

In the evening, the president will meet Russian entrepreneurs and investors at a hotel which will be followed by a dinner hosted by the ambassador.

The president will depart for Pakistan at around 3pm on Thursday. A joint statement is expected to be issued before his departure and he is likely to be met at his hotel by Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov at the same time.

On Thursday morning, the president will give an interview to a CNN team and then to the Russian TV, while at 1:15pm he is scheduled to meet Moscow journalists.

Most of the newspapers in Russia on Tuesday published articles on the visit of President Musharraf.

A senior Russian journalist told Dawn during the reception ceremony that Moscow was expecting the visit to herald a breakthrough in the not-so-comfortable relations between the two countries.

Pakistan will try to remove the misunderstandings that have marred relations between the two countries during the last several years as well as to establish commercial, economic, political and strategic relations with Russia.

President Musharraf is also likely to invite President Vladimir Putin to help defuse tension with India and look at the possibility of Russian leader playing a mediatory role in resolving the Kashmir issue.

The presence of defence secretary in the entourage indicates a desire on the part of Pakistan to probe the possibility of diversifying sources of supplies of weapon systems.

Pakistan is also keen to reassure the Russian leadership that its nuclear programme is safe and secure and that it has no intention to hand over N-technology to any other state.

Those accompanying the president included adviser to the prime minister on finance, Shaukat Aziz, commerce minister, Humayun Akhtar, foreign secretary, Riaz Khokar, defence secretary Lt-Gen Hamid Nawaz (retired), industries secretary, Akram Sheikh, petroleum secretary, Abdullah Yousuf and president’s press secretary Maj-Gen Rashid Qureshi and his military secretary Maj-Gen Nadeem Taj.

DEPARTURE: Earlier, talking to reporters before his departure at the PAF base in Islamabad, President Pervez Musharraf said during his visit to Russia he would discuss with President Vladimir Putin all bilateral, international and regional issues, adding that Moscow was well-placed to play a key role in resolving disputes between Pakistan and India, adds APP.

The president was seen off by Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali. President Musharraf described his three-day state visit as a landmark visit.

Gen Musharraf expressed the hope that the visit would have a new breakthrough in relations between the two countries.

In reply to a question whether his visit to Russia, which has good relations with India, can help resolve disputes between the two neighbours, Gen Musharraf said “the possibility is there.”

He said Russia had good relations with India and he was going to Moscow to improve relations between Pakistan and Russia.

The president said Russia was well-placed to play a key role in resolving disputes between Pakistan and India. But, he added, the willingness had to be from the Indian side also to allow Russia to play that role.

Vice Chief of the Army Staff Gen Mohammad Yousaf, high civil and military officials were present to see off the president.

Deputy chief of the Russian mission in Islamabad was also present. The Russian envoy to Islamabad is already in Moscow ahead of president’s visit.

Meanwhile, a Russian foreign ministry spokesman has said that Moscow intends to improve relations with Pakistan in all fields.

Alexander Yakovenko told newsmen in Moscow that Russia intends to carry on work with Pakistan to “eliminate disagreements and seek to further develop ties in all fields.”



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