Putin talks Syria, Iran on Israel trip |
Kuwait Times - 26 June, 2012
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday cautioned against foreign interference in Syria during a rare visit to Israel aimed at burnishing Kremlin’s credentials as a key Middle East power broker.
“From the very beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, Russia has been persuading its partners that democratic changes should take place in a civilised manner and without external intervention,” Putin said after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first visit to the country since 2005.
Analysts see Putin’s trip to Israel followed by a visit to the West Bank and Jordan on Tuesday as a diplomatic mission as world powers scramble for a solution to stop the bloodshed in Syria and resolve Iran’s nuclear crisis. Russia is pushing for an international Syria conference and has already discussed the plan with Jordan as well as the European Union, Iran and Iraq.
Putin’s strident rhetoric and a flat-out refusal to support sanctions against Moscow’s Soviet-era ally Syria has pitted him against the West, but the Russian strongman found a grateful audience in Israel whose President Shimon Peres urged Moscow to play a bigger role in the region.
“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,” Peres said in the resort town of Netanya where the two leaders unveiled a World War II monument.
“Russia, which made such a decisive contribution in the Second World War, is the same Russia that can make another decisive contribution, this time to peace in the Middle East,” he said next to the black-and-white monument overlooking the Mediterranean.
Putin and the Israeli leaders said they discussed the Syrian crisis and Iran’s controversial nuclear program but gave no details. Speaking alongside Putin after the talks, Netanyahu again warned that Iranian nuclear weapons would pose “a severe danger, first and foremost to Israel, but also to the region and entire world”.
Israel and much of the international community believe Iran’s nuclear program masks a weapons drive, and the United States has led a push for tough sanctions against Tehran.
Israel, which is widely believed to have the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, has said Iran’s program poses an existential threat and has warned it reserves the right to use all means necessary to respond, including military.
The international community has been pursuing talks with Tehran, but three high-level meetings – the most recent in Moscow – have failed to produce any breakthrough.
The P5+1 group – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany – has agreed to another round of discussions in Istanbul on July 3, but Israel has warned that lengthy talks give Iran time to continue uranium enrichment.
Earlier yesterday, Putin sought to highlight common history that he said brings the two nations closer. He said the Netanya monument would serve “as a reminder that the world is still fragile and we should do our best in order for the criminal Nazi doctrines, no matter what form or shape they take, to be left in the past.” Guests at the ceremony like World War II veteran Boris Kagan, 87, expressed hope that ties between Israel and Russia would improve with Putin’s visit. “We have to be friends,” said Kagan, his chest decorated with rows of medals.
Today, Putin is to meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem for talks likely to focus on the stalled peace process.
The peacemaking Quartet, which groups Russia, the United States, European Union and United Nations, has been trying to nudge the two sides back to direct talks, on hold since late 2010. But little progress has been made, and the Palestinians have insisted on a settlement freeze before talks resume, while Israel calls for new discussions without preconditions.
“Russia has made important strides in reasserting itself into the Mideast picture during the past 18 months,” said Bob Zelnick, a Hoover Institute fellow and author of “Israeli Unilateralism: Beyond Gaza”. “The Russians are still playing it carefully.
They have inserted themselves into the Syrian picture just enough to be taken seriously by other players without aligning themselves with the hated Syrian leadership.”