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German Leader Merkel To Visit Moscow --> Angela Merkel (file photo) (AFP) 16 January 2006 -- Angela Merkel is due today to make her first official visit to Russia since becoming Germany's first woman chancellor.

Merkel, who speaks Russian, is due to meet with President Vladimir Putin. They are expected to discuss a wide range of issues, including Russian energy supplies to the west, the "strategic partnership" between Germany and Russia, and the Iranian nuclear standoff.

German officials said Merkel is expected to try to persuade Putin to join the European Union and United States in moves to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council.

Merkel's one-day Moscow visit is also expected to include a meeting with representatives of Russian human rights organizations.

The Human Rights Watch group has urged Merkel to use her visit to emphasize the importance of Russia respecting international human rights standards. The group has accused Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, of ignoring alleged backsliding on democracy in Russia under Putin.

Merkel, who last week met with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington, took office in November 2005.

(Reuters, AP)