Putin was accompanied by a large delegation of Russian business leaders when he was received at Casablanca airport by Driss Jettou, the Moroccan prime minister, early on Thursday morning.

He is expected to meet King Mohammed VI on Thursday for talks focusing on boosting economic ties in areas such as energy, irrigation, tourism and the supply of Russian technology, a Kremlin source said.

Other world issues such as the situation in the Middle East and the fight against terrorism would also be discussed, the source said.

"We are very interested in Russian investments to Morocco. Despite the different regimes and ideologies we have kept very good relations with Russia," Mohamed Kabbaj, the Casablanca governor, said.

Falling share

The Moroccan Foreign Exchange Office said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia and Iran had knocked Russia out of the position of top oil supplier to Morocco in the first half of 2006, compared with last year.

King Mohammed VI will hold talks
with Putin on several issues

Moscow exported 2.4 billion dirhams ($277 million) of crude oil to Morocco in the first half of 2006, compared with 4.7 billion dirhams for the same period in 2005, or a drop of almost half, the office said.

Russia was Morocco's top supplier of crude oil in the first half of 2005 with 47.3 per cent of the market, ahead of Saudi Arabia with 38.7 per cent and Iran with 12 pe rcent.

But in 2006 Russia slid to third place with only 19 per cent of the Moroccan crude oil market, compared with 46 per cent for Saudi Arabia and 33.5 per cent for Iran.

Never the less, overall trade between Russia and Morocco reached some 4.5 billion dirhams in the first half of this year, Moroccan officials said.