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    COOPERATION WITH CHURCH IMPROVES RUSSIA-CIS RELATIONS - FOREIGN MINISTER

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    SERGIYEV POSAD (Moscow Region), February 3, 2004. (RIA Novosti) -- The cooperation between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Orthodox Church has a great potential for the development of this country's relations with the other CIS members and the Balkan countries, says Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

    "Russian diplomacy's cooperation with the Russian Orthodox Church has a vast potential for the development of Russia's relations with countries of Orthodox tradition, especially within the CIS. Its boundaries largely repeat those of the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchy," Ivanov said speaking at the 8th World Russian National Council at the Trinity-Sergius Lavra Tuesday.

    The minister supported the Church's initiative to hold the Second Inter-Religious Peace-Keeping Forum in March in Moscow, to be attended by participants from the CIS.

    Ivanov also emphasized that "the Balkans have always been, and still are an area of Russia's foreign-political interests, and inter-church contacts are very important to protect those interests." According to him, the political dialog with Greece, for example, has become more active largely due to the Church's efforts.

    "Our common Orthodox roots also make us acutely feel the pain of Kosovo," the minister noted.

    "The interaction between our diplomacy and the Russian Orthodox Church is conditioned by an ages-long historic tradition," he said. According to him, this cooperation is based on our common concern about the preservation and consolidation of spiritual ties with our compatriots living outside Russia, about their rights and spiritual freedoms; this cooperation involves the proliferation of reliable information and other activities.

    The joint efforts have yielded some important results by now. The minister mentioned the registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church, and a few steps to overcome the tragic division of the Russian Orthodox Church into the Domestic and Foreign Churches in the early 20th century.

    "The religious factor is meant to contribute to the rapprochement of nations and peoples in the modern world," Ivanov said with conviction.

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