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Pakistan leader in first foreign trip after bin Laden death

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari was on Wednesday to arrive for talks with Russian leaders in Moscow, his first foreign visit since the killing of Osama bin Laden by US forces.

On Thursday Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will host Zardari for talks at the Kremlin where officials from the two countries were also expected to sign agreements on cooperation in agriculture, aviation and energy, a spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy in Moscow told AFP.

“Economics will be the focus of the visit,” said the spokesman, Raja Abdul Qayyum.

The three-day visit to Russia will be Zardari’s first abroad since the Al-Qaeda leader, the world’s most wanted man, was killed in the raid by US forces on a compound in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

The Kremlin hailed the death of bin Laden as a “serious success… in the war against international terrorism” but Pakistan has expressed fury that US forces carried out the raid without informing Islamabad first.

Zardari’s programme includes a tour of Skolkovo, a future high-tech centre outside Moscow billed as Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley and a trip to the former imperial capital Saint Petersburg.

Speaking in an interview with Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency ahead of the visit, Zardari said he hoped his talks in Russia would breathe a new life into bilateral ties.

“I expect a lot from my upcoming visit to Russia,” he was quoted as saying. “I hope that during this visit the relations between our countries will receive a new development impetus.”

The Pakistani president also said ramping up economic and political ties was in the interests of both countries.

“Tsarist Russia was dreaming about getting access to southern seas,” he was quoted as saying.

“Pakistan invites modern Russia to take advantage of its access to southern seas which will no doubt facilitate economic prosperity of the two countries.”

Moscow is not usually seen as an ally of Islamabad, not least because of its historically close ties to Pakistan’s traditional foe India.

Tensions also still linger over the Pakistani secret service’s backing of mujahedeen insurgents against Soviet forces in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

But Russia and Pakistan called for the development of regional economic projects and the revival of cooperation that dated back to the Soviet era at a rare summit last year.

Medvedev hosted Zardari at his Black Sea residence in Sochi as part of the four-way summit which also included Afghanistan and Tajikistan last August when the four states agreed to pursue joint economic projects to help bring stability to the volatile region.

Citing a source close to the management of state conglomerate Russian Technologies, Vedomosti business daily said on Wednesday that the highlight of the Zardari visit would be a preliminary agreement to give Pakistan a $540 million loan to modernise the Soviet-built Pakistan Steel plant.

A delegation from Prominvest, a Russian Technologies subsidiary, has visited the plant and reached preliminary agreements, the source told the newspaper.

Russian Technologies could not confirm the report.