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    RUSSIA'S PRESIDENT, GERMAN CHANCELLOR IN SUMMITRY

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    NOVO-OGAREVO, APRIL 2, (RIA Novosti) - President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany are holding conference in Novo-Ogarevo, presidential country residence in the Moscow environs.

    The agenda concerns bilateral contacts, Russian relations with the European Union, and numerous international issues.

    Messrs. Putin and Schroeder have come together for a first time this year. The Chancellor is also a first national leader outside the post-Soviet area whom Vladimir Putin is meeting at the negotiation table since he won another presidential term, March 14. President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine was the first to see Mr. Putin, two days after the Russian poll.

    The conferees intend to analyse the implementation of understandings made October last, as Yekaterinburg in the Urals was hosting Russo-German interstate consultations. The summiteers will also blueprint further objectives, reports a Kremlin staff member.

    Economic matters will dominate the Novo-Ogarevo agenda, President Putin said before the event.

    "Germany is Russia's closest commercial and economic partner in Europe, and biggest economic partner throughout the world. Our trade turnover exceeds twenty billion euros, and so is even greater than the Russian-US. That makes regular summitry a must for Russia and Germany alike," pointed out the President.

    As he was making an opening address, the host thanked Herr Schroeder for coming to Russia: "You have accepted my invitation, and I am extremely grateful. I know the German parliament is debating many issues on a tight schedule-but still, you have found an opportunity to come." "Your visit coincides in time with the opening of German Culture Days in Russia, and that is specially pleasing," added the President, and referred to an opening gala, which the two Culture Ministers presided in Moscow two hours before the summitry took start.

    The Days, with their numerous events, aim to give the Russian public a comprehensive idea of German culture, and Mr. Putin is profoundly convinced that they would greatly promote bilateral contacts. More than that, the Days "give us a good chance to exchange opinions on bilateral developments and certain international issues." "Here, I have prepared a small number of questions for the two of us," the President said smilingly as he was pointing at four huge reams of paper on his desk-and sent his guest into a peal of laughter.

    President Putin said he was eager to debate Russia-EU relations with Herr Schroeder: "We have a very serious bilateral agenda-but the European Union is expanding, so Russian contacts with it are also in the foreground. I should like to discuss certain matters, and compare our stances." He also said the summiteers ought to take stock of Afghan, Iraqi and Mideastern developments.

    An international conference on Afghanistan finished in Berlin quite recently, and he was eager to hear what Chancellor Schroeder thought about its achievements, remarked the President.

    "Russia has had a Cabinet change, and I arranged it with the new Prime Minister for him to attend our conference," he added.

    As he was introducing Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to Gerhard Schroeder, President Putin made a reference to Russo-German intergovernmental consultations, scheduled for early September in Hamburg.

    The Chancellor congratulated Vladimir Putin on his victory in a presidential elections of March 14. "I should like to start with congratulations as you have won another presidential term. Few heads of state and government have ever scored such a landslide victory, with 71.2 per cent of the turnout. I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart," he said.

    "I was eager to come to Moscow for this conference, and I am eager now to discuss a wide range of essential issues. I expect this to be a fruitful talk," added the visitor.

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