Uzbek, Russian leaders pledge close ties at Kremlin
|Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin pledged closer ties at a Kremlin meeting Wednesday that underlined Moscow's clout in energy-rich ex-Soviet Central Asia. |
The visit - the first abroad by Karimov since his re-election in December - marked a diplomatic triumph for Moscow, which is struggling with Western powers and China for influence in its backyard.
"I thank you that your first visit to Russia is a sign for us that our relations will develop as in previous years," Putin said.
Karimov said his trip to Moscow so soon after re-election "underlines the special relationship between our countries and the level of respect that Uzbekistan has for Russia."
He said he regretted Putin's plan to retire as president after 2 March elections, suggesting that he should have found a way to bypass the Russian constitution's two-term limit on the presidency.
"I proposed myself that Vladimir Vladimirovich be a candidate for a third term," Karimov said, using Putin's patronymic. "This alternative could have come to pass and no one would have regretted it."
After exchanging compliments, the two leaders hailed growing economic ties, noting that bilateral trade had grown by more than one-third in 2007.
"The energy sector is the most dynamic area of our economic cooperation. We have been discussing strategic energy projects, including in the nuclear sphere," Putin said.
"Both sides have confirmed their interest in carrying out agreements on development of gas transport infrastructure in Central Asia," Putin said. "We must cooperate actively with Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan."
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