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Syria, Iran Top Agenda Of Putin's Talks In Israel


Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya to unveil a memorial to the Soviet Red Army's victory over fascism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a ceremony in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya to unveil a memorial to the Soviet Red Army's victory over fascism.
The conflict in Syria and Iran's controversial nuclear program dominated the agenda as Russian President Vladimir Putin began a visit to Israel.

Upon his arrival on June 25, Putin joined President Simon Peres at a ceremony to inaugurate a memorial in the coastal town of Netanya marking the victory of the Soviet Red Army over Nazi Germany in World War II.

During the ceremony, Peres said: "I am confident that Russia, which defeated fascism, will not allow similar threats today. Not the Iranian threat. Not the bloodshed in Syria."

Later in the day, Putin met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

After the talks, the Russian president said they discussed Iran's nuclear program and the situation in Syria "in great detail."

He said he saw negotiations as the only solution for Iranian and Syrian issues.

"From the very beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, Russia has consistently tried to convince our partners that democratic change must take place in a civilized manner and without outside intervention," he said.

Netanyahu also reiterated Israel's main demands on the Iranian issue.

"The international community has to present three clear demands to Iran: the cessation of uranium enrichment in Iran, removing all of the already enriched uranium from Iran, and dismantling the underground nuclear facility near Qom," he said.

"Thus, I believe two things must be done now: strengthening the sanctions and also boosting the demands."

On June 26, the Russian president is to open a Russian cultural and science center in the West Bank town of Bethlehem before leaving for Jordan.

Putin last visited Israel in 2005 in what was the first official visit by a Russian president to the Jewish state.

On the eve of the visit, Putin's top foreign policy aide, Yury Ushakov, said the tour is aimed at highlighting "the importance of this region for [Russia] and is designed to further strengthen Russia's position here."

Israel and its Western allies have been urging tougher sanctions against the Islamic republic over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can be directed to make both reactor fuel and nuclear warheads.

Israel has said Iran's potential possession of a nuclear weapon would mark an existential threat to the Jewish-led state, and has refused to rule out a military strike targeting Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran denies making any effort to develop an atomic weapon.

Russia has backed four previous rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran but has joined with China in resisting further measures.

Talks earlier this month in Moscow between Iran and six world powers, including Russia, failed to result in a breakthrough.

Russia and Western nations are also at loggerheads over the conflict in Syria. The Syrian regime was a Soviet-era Russian ally in the Middle East and remains a major buyer of Russian weapons.

Russia, along with China has twice blocked UN Security Council resolutions threatening sanctions against Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's violent crackdown on the opposition has left an estimated 15,000 people dead since March 2011.

It has rejected calls for Assad to step down and is categorically opposed to outside intervention.

Russia is pushing for an international conference on Syria that would bring together the five UN Security Council members and Syria's regional neighbors.

Putin was also expected to discuss the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in his talks with Israeli leaders on June 25 and with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank the following day.

The Mideast Quartet -- which brings together the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia -- has sought to revive the talks, which have been stalled since September 2010.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and dpa
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