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Abbas, Putin to discuss Middle East confce PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 20 April 2008

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday were to discuss plans for a Middle East peace conference, as Moscow seeks a greater diplomatic role in the region, reports AFP.

In talks at Putin''s residence "special attention will be paid to... possible steps by Russia including its initiative to hold a Moscow meeting on the Middle East," a Kremlin official told journalists on condition of anonymity.

The official noted continued attacks by Palestinian militants on Israel and Israel''s "disproportionate" response and said Putin and Abbas would discuss how to stabilise the situation and restore Palestinian unity.

The latter, the official said, was an "indispensable condition for the success of talks between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel and the creation of a Palestinian state."

Earlier in his visit, Abbas said a Moscow peace conference was urgently needed as Israeli-Palestinian negotiations begun in Annapolis in the United States last November were "not advancing at the required pace or yielding the necessary progress." Israel''s views on a Moscow conference have been unclear.

On March 21 a senior Israeli official said, under conditions of anonymity, that "out of diplomatic courtesy, we didn''t reject the plan, but the truth is, we are not enthusiastic." The Annapolis meeting hosted by US President George W.

Bush formally restarted negotiations after a seven-year freeze and aimed to conclude a comprehensive agreement by the end of 2008 -- just before Bush leaves office. Russia is a member of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet along with the European Union, the United States and the United Nations.

A date for the proposed Moscow conference has yet to be announced, but talks have been under way with the United States on the plan and Abbas earlier said it might be held in June. Lacking the diplomatic heft of the United States in the Middle East, Russia has maintained links not only with Abbas but also with Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in June and is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, Washington and the EU.

Preparations are under way for Moscow to provide armoured cars to the Palestinians, while the Kommersant newspaper on Friday said Moscow was ready to provide two helicopters and 10 million dollars (6.2 million euros) in aid.

Kommersant, an independent business daily, asserted that Russia felt left out of the Middle East process and was not being kept abreast of Israeli- Palestinian negotiations.

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