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FACTDROP: Iran and Syria Discussed in Putin’s Visit to Israel


Iran and Syria Discussed in Putin’s Visit to Israel

Πηγή: New York Times
June 25 2012

JERUSALEM – President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia conferred with Israeli leaders on Monday during a 24-hour visit that juxtaposed the much improved ties between the two countries with their sharp differences, chief among them the Iranian nuclear program.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other senior Israeli officials held talks with Mr. Putin that focused on Iran as well as other regional issues, according to the prime minister’s office.

But there was little hope here that the visit would change Russian policy in the region.

Russia hosted the latest round of talks between the group of six world powers and Iran earlier this month that ended without the sides even committing to another high-level meeting Israeli leaders have argued that the talks merely give Iran more time to develop what they suspect is a military nuclear program. Iran insists its program is peaceful. Russia has been reluctant to support tougher sanctions against Iran.

Israeli leaders have also called for more international resolve to end the bloodshed in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad's military is attempting to crush an armed uprising. Russia is viewed as Mr. Assad's principal foreign defender.

At a joint news conference after their meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said that he and Mr. Putin agreed that the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran “presents a grave danger first of all to Israel, and to the region and the world as a whole.”

Israel, Mr. Netanyahu said, wants to see the sanctions against Tehran expanded as well as a halt to all uranium enrichment by Iran, the removal of all enriched uranium from Iran, and the dismantling of an underground facility near the city of Qum.

Speaking in Russian, Mr. Putin said that he and Mr. Netanyahu had discussed Syria and the Iranian nuclear program and that the talks were detailed and very useful.

President Shimon Peres then hosted Mr. Putin for a state dinner.

Privately, officials expressed skepticism about being able to influence Russia.

“Let’s not exaggerate. It is a very brief visit,” said a senior Israeli official who also spoke on condition of anonymity for reasons of diplomacy. He added, “Do not expect any major breakthrough.”

The main reason for the visit by the Russian president, officials here noted, was the inauguration in the Israeli coastal city of Netanya of a national monument honoring those who fell in the ranks of the Red Army during the Second World War and their role in the victory over Nazi Germany. The visit had been scheduled around the completion of construction of the monument.

Mr. Peres used the highly symbolic occasion to address the contentious diplomatic issues.

“I am confident that Russia, which defeated fascism, will not allow today’s threats to continue. Not the Iranian threat. Not the bloodshed in Syria,” he said in a speech at the ceremony.

Israel also has reservations about Russia’s role in the long-stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Russia, a member of the so-called quartet of Middle East peace makers along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, has consistently sided with the Palestinians during disputes, one of the officials here said. Mr. Netanyahu called on Mr. Putin to urge the Palestinians to return to negotiations.

The leftist Meretz Party protested Mr. Putin’s visit, saying that it was “morally wrong and diplomatically unwise” for Mr. Netanyahu to meet with Mr. Putin while civilians were being killed in Syria.

Diplomatic disagreements aside, though, Israel was eager to cultivate its relations with such a major world and regional player.

Relations have grown since the fall of the Soviet Union, which was hostile to Israel, and has been cemented by the arrival of more than a million immigrants from the former Soviet Union to Israel, among them 10,000 Red Army veterans.

Mr. Netanyahu’s cabinet includes several Russian speakers, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Trade between Israel and Russia has been increasing and the number of Russian tourists here is second to that from the United States, though many Russian tourists only come on a one-day Holy Land excursion as part of a cruise or a longer stay in nearby Turkey.

Mr. Netanyahu said he was sure that Mr. Putin’s visit would further upgrade ties in the fields of agriculture, science, technology and space, among others.

Mr. Putin arrived with an entourage of about 400 Russians including several ministers and deputy ministers, businesspeople and journalists.

On Tuesday Mr. Putin was scheduled to travel to Bethlehem in the West Bank, to inaugurate a Russian cultural center and meet with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, before leaving for Jordan.

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