Putin in Morocco for talks on Middle East, energy cooperation

Russia's state-owned nuclear power company said Thursday it would bid to build Morocco's first nuclear plant, while Russian President Vladimir Putin signed cooperation deals with the Moroccan king as part of an economic mission to expand Russia's African reach.

Putin the first Russian leader to visit Morocco was welcomed by King Mohammed VI, Moroccan dignitaries and foreign ambassadors at a ceremony under the baking sun before the royal palace in Casablanca, with a military band piping and minarets towering in the background beyond a screen of pine trees.

They then headed into talks. Afterward the Russian and Moroccan delegations signed documents on extradition, tourism, fishing, medicine and sports, palace spokesman Chakib Laroussi told The Associated Press.

The trip wraps up an Africa tour aimed at spreading Russia's influence beyond its traditional Soviet-era partners. Putin arrived early Thursday from South Africa, where he pushed for a greater Russian business presence.

"The huge, positive moral and political potential, for which the USSR paid a lot in its time, must be transformed today into pragmatic relations in the economic sphere," he said in televised comments.

"This is a very promising direction for our activity, our foreign policy, our economic expansion," he said, adding: "In the good sense of the word, so as not to frighten anyone"

Putin and the king were expected to discuss boosting the U.N.'s role in global affairs, anti-terrorism efforts and tensions in the Middle East, Putin aide Sergei Prikhodko said.