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Moscow's growing ties with Latin American and Caribbean countries result
Moscow's growing ties with Latin American and Caribbean countries result from common interests and do not target third countries, the Russian foreign minister said on Monday.

Sergei Lavrov begins a Latin American tour on Monday. The top Russian diplomat will make his first official visits to Colombia and Ecuador, and attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) ministerial meeting in Lima, Peru on November 19-20.

Lavrov will hold a number of bilateral discussions on the sidelines of the gathering.

He dismissed as "absolutely untrue" speculation on the part of some observers that Russia was driven to boost contacts with Latin America by a diplomatic tug-of-war with the United States.

"Disapproval of attempts to impose unilateral approaches, readiness to respect partners' interests not in word but in deed, to honor the principle of non-interference in sovereign nations' affairs, and to choose crisis and conflict settlement through talks" has brought Russia closer to Latin America, Lavrov said.

Lavrov said most Latin American countries had denounced Georgia's August 8 attack as aggression and condemned U.S. policy in the Caucasus, supporting Moscow's efforts to force Tbilisi to peace.

Nicaragua is so far the only country in the world to follow Russia by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent.

Lavrov assured reporters that Russia sold only defensive weapons to Latin America, honoring all its international commitments.

"The weaponry we supply is not offensive," Lavrov said. "These are purely defensive means in their technical specifications."

The diplomat added that Russia was honoring all its international commitments as part of its "transparent" cooperation in the military sphere.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Monday that Lavrov would meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez during a visit to Bogota on Wednesday.

The parties, which have potential for boosting cooperation in the power sector, mechanical engineering, car making and agriculture, will focus on the development of bilateral economic contacts, Nesterenko said.

Trade between Russia and Latin America has so far showed an annual growth of 25%-30% in the past few years, and is expected to hit a record of some $15 billion in 2008.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will take part in the November 22-23 APEC summit in Lima and afterwards is expected to pay official visits to Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba.

The leaders of Argentina, Cuba, Nicaragua and Uruguay are expected to visit Moscow within the next few months.


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