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#13 - JRL 7038
Russia To Appoint Special Envoy To Islamic World-Minister
January 28, 2003

MOSCOW (AP)--Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Tuesday his ministry will soon appoint a special envoy to the Islamic world, indicating that Moscow is moving to mend ties that have been frayed by its increasing closeness with Israel and disputes over the war in mostly Muslim Chechnya.

At a joint news conference with Abdelouahed Belkeziz, the secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ivanov sought to play up shared views.

"Our positions on many international issues are either close or identical," he said, adding that Moscow and the OIC could improve their cooperation.

Ivanov denied that Russia equates terrorism with Islam. He invited the OIC to participate in normalizing the situation in war-battered Chechnya - where Moscow contends it is fighting international terrorism, not just separatists.

Belkeziz said repeatedly that the OIC considers Chechnya to be Russia's domestic affair. He said Ivanov had expressed "bewilderment" over the support of some OIC member states for Chechen organizations, but that he had reiterated the OIC's respect for Russia's sovereignty.

Russia is home to about 20 million Muslims, who make up the second largest religious group after Russian Orthodox Christians. Many complain of discrimination and outright harassment, stemming in part from the Chechen war and fear of terrorism.

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