Gadhafi touts energy ties in Russia

November 1, 2008 12:00 am

, MOSCOW, November 1 – Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi focused on oil and gas ties in a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev Saturday, starting talks which are also expected to touch on arms purchases and nuclear energy.

"Cooperation in the gas and oil sphere is extremely important now. We have common approaches to gas and oil policies," the leader of energy-rich Libya told Medvedev, speaking through a Russian translator.

"We will discuss economic issues and coordination in the foreign-policy sphere, matters which are very important at the moment," Medvedev said.

Kadhafi arrived at the Kremlin dressed in a tan coat draped over his trademark robes and accompanied by a stern-looking female bodyguard in green uniform and red beret.

He was due to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin later at 1400 GMT, after arriving Friday on his first visit to Moscow since Cold War days in 1985.

Kadhafi may sign a pact on Russian-Libyan nuclear energy cooperation, the Vedomosti newspaper reported Saturday, citing a source involved in preparations for his visit.

The source did not give details but Russia has reportedly been in talks to build a nuclear power plant in Libya, a longtime pariah that has sought to rejoin the international fold in recent years.

Other expected topics include a multi-billion-dollar deal to upgrade Libya’s Soviet-era arsenal and lucrative contracts for Russian firms.

Libya might also offer to host a Russian naval base at the Mediterranean port of Benghazi, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Friday.

"The Russian military presence will be a guarantee of non-aggression against Libya from the United States," it said.

Kommersant added that Moscow wants Tripoli to join a "gas OPEC" with itself and Qatar. Russia, Iran and Qatar said last month they were forming a joint forum for gas projects but stopped short of advocating an OPEC-style cartel.

However, on Saturday Russian papers seemed more interested in the Libyan leader’s unusual travel arrangements, with the Izvestia daily running the headline: "Kadhafi set up his tent in the Kremlin."

Kadhafi brings a traditional Bedouin tent along with him on state visits which he uses to host guests. He does not usually sleep in it.

An AFP journalist saw a small fire burning in front of the khaki-coloured tent Saturday in the Kremlin’s Tainitsky Garden, whose name derives from the Russian word for "secret."

The garden is named after the nearby Tainitsky Tower, built in 1485, which once contained a secret passage that let Kremlin residents escape in times of siege.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Kremlin source said ahead of the visit that the two would discuss "the peaceful atom" as well as "military-technical cooperation," a term that typically describes arms purchases.

Libya could buy more than two billion dollars (1.5 billion euros) of Russian arms including surface-to-air missiles, tanks and fighter planes, Interfax news agency reported Friday, citing a Russian defence industry source.

Relations have warmed this year between Russia and Libya, which began to shed its pariah status in 2003 when it renounced weapons of mass destruction and took responsibility for a 1988 airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people.

In April, during a visit to Tripoli by then-president Putin, Moscow agreed to cancel billions of dollars of Libyan Soviet-era debt in exchange for big contracts with Russian companies.

According to Libyan sources in Moscow, Kadhafi is expected to visit Ukraine and Belarus after his visit to Russia.


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