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Russia Says Stalled Mideast Talks Need Extra Push

SWEIMAH, Jordan (Reuters) -- Russia has said it plans to become more involved in resolving the Middle East conflict along with the European Union and the United States.

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov, who is President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy to the region, told a conference in Jordan that new efforts were needed to break the deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

"We have not exhausted the full potential of the Quartet," said, referring to the joint diplomatic committee formed by Russia, the EU, the United Nations, and the United States.

Saltanov was addressing a meeting of Russia's Valdai Club on Jordan's Dead Sea coast, where Russian, Arab, Palestinian and Israeli speakers debated the prospects of a comprehensive Middle East peace accord in the coming decade.

"This conference itself is a small signal of Russia's intention to return to the Middle East arena," said Middle East specialist Patrick Seale. "It has been absent for 20 years."

Saltanov said the long-running conflict increasingly posed "challenges of a strategic nature" that could have a negative impact on states outside the immediate region, where rising Islamic radicalism could lead to religious wars.

In a message on Monday to participants in a "Russia-Muslim World" strategic conference, Medvedev spoke of the need for a "joint alternative to radicalism and extremism that are not inherent in any specific religion or ethnic group", the Interfax agency quoted the Kremlin as saying.

No Deadlines

Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov told the Valdai conference on December 21 that the Quartet should formulate the basis of a framework Middle East peace agreement, and invite Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate in a fixed time period.

Saltanov said deadlines could prove disappointing.

The Quartet backs Washington's lead role in Middle East mediation, and there was no suggestion Russia would challenge this arrangement. Saltanov said he met often with U.S. presidential envoy George Mitchell, who has led shuttle diplomacy for 10 months with no sign of a breakthrough to relaunch the stalled talks.

He denied that Russia wanted a "Moscow Conference" on the Middle East merely as an attention-grabbing publicity stunt, "just for a photo opportunity."

But he made clear Moscow still hoped to host a major peace conference, if and when Israel and the Palestinians agree to restore a dialogue interrupted since last December, and if the Quartet can set out the terms of reference of a peace accord.

Collaboration in the Quartet "should be intensified and all parties should be active players," Saltanov said.

U.S. President Barack Obama may not have made much headway in the Middle East in a tumultuous year of war and economic crisis, Seale added, but "I believe he will return [to it] in the new year with greater resolve."