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Observer status in OIC reflects Russia's new role in world affairs, diplomats say

Moscow, July 18 (RIA Novosti) - Russian Foreign Ministry officials view the country's gain of observer status in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) as an event of strategic importance.

"The decision to grant Russia observer status, which the organization made at its June 30 conference in Yemen, is a big event," Veniamin Popov, the ministry's liaison officer with the OIC, said at a news conference in Moscow Monday. "This is an event of strategic importance, one that represents the new situation in international affairs and reflects Russia's new role in global developments."

Popov said Russia had expressed interest in joining the OIC back in August 2003, adding, "This marked the opening of a new, Islamic dimension to Russian foreign policies."

The diplomat said that Russia's involvement with the organization, uniting as many as 57 member states, was of paramount importance, given that "the Islamic world and Russia are equal partners in the campaign for a new [world] order," and "allies in the fight against the evil of global terrorism." "We are talking about wide-ranging cooperation in a variety of areas," Popov said. He also said security was one of the areas where cooperation was the most intense and that Russia had related agreements with some of the OIC members. "Our cooperation should also be about promoting tolerance in society - respect for [people of] other religious faiths and denominations, or different ethnic origin," he said.

The OIC's decision to take Russia on board as an observer is pivotal to Russia's 20-million-strong Muslim community, Popov said.

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