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Russia: Putin Promises 'Substantial' Support For Mideast Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and President Vladimir Putin in Moscow today. The leaders talked about the possible solution of a future peace process in the Middle East, the spread of weapons of mass destruction to Iran and Iraq, and economic cooperation between Russia and Israel.

Moscow, 4 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that Russia is prepared to make what he called a "substantial" contribution to a settlement of the Mideast crisis.

Putin met Sharon today in the Kremlin, and in opening remarks said Russia was "watching with alarm" what is happening in the Middle East.

"We observe with alarm what is happening there [in the Middle East], the more so as many Israeli citizens came from the former Soviet Union and Russia. We are not indifferent to the fate of these people. We want very much that they would live in conditions of peace and safety."

More than a million of Israel's six million citizens are believed to have came from Russia and former Soviet bloc countries. That figure is expected to grow in the coming years.

Putin said Russia's traditionally good relations with Arab nations and the Palestinians, and its burgeoning ties with Israel, "put it in a good position" to play a larger role in Mideast settlement.

Putin said Russia will do its part to help establish peace and said the first step is for both sides to stop the escalation of violence and create an environment of mutual trust. But at the same time -- in an apparent reference to Russian military operations in Chechnya, where officials say they are fighting Islamic terrorism -- he condemned any form of terrorism:

"You know our principle position concerning the fight against terrorism. Nothing can be accepted as justification for the terrorist actions against the civilian population."

For his part, Sharon emphasized economic ties and said Israel would like to increase trade. He said this is the reason why some Israeli business representatives are accompanying him to Moscow.

Another topic on the agenda was the spread of weapons of mass destruction, particularly to Iran and Iraq. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov says Russia will take measures to halt the flow of dangerous technology to foreign countries, but it will not stop its cooperation with Iran and Iraq.

"The Israeli counterpart asked about the spread of weapons of mass destruction -- in particular to Iran and in Iraq. Concerning this [issue], in Russia all the necessary measures to control the export and to prevent the flow of technology to foreign countries were taken and are being taken."

Sharon added he would like to strengthen cultural ties with Russia. He said that even though he was born in Israel, he was born into a family of Russian immigrants. Sharon said that as a child he "absorbed the Russian culture."

Sharon also invited Putin to visit Israel:

"We would be very happy if [President Putin] could come to Israel again. You won't have any problems with the language."

Sergei Karaganov, deputy director of the Institute of Europe and chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, says Sharon is in Moscow to get political support from the outside world.

"The prime minister of Israel wants to get at least some more political support for his policy. Russia is supporting and has been supporting Israel recently. I believe this visit is a try by the Israel government to get some support in the outside world on one side and to show to the public inside Israel that he gets the support for the policy it is now [carrying out]. I don't think there will be any open support from the side of the Russian government."

Karaganov believes, however, that Russia -- although a formal sponsor of the Middle East peace process along with the United States -- should not get too deeply involved in the peace process:

"We should help [the peace process] because we have good relations with Israel and we have a long-term relationship with Palestinians. But I don't think there is now a visible peace settlement, and this is why I believe that Russia shouldn't get itself too deeply [involved] in the settlement of this [peace] program. The whole issue was not created by Russians there. I don't think that Russia should try to play now the game and then [it] will [be] blamed for the failure."

The Palestinian authority's representative in Russia, Khairi al-Oridi, told the ITAR-TASS that the Palestinian side welcomes Russia's efforts at settling problems in the Middle East. He said that Palestinians have no doubt that Russia will do everything it can to help the peace process in the region.