Skip to comments.Putin starts Israel trip
Posted on 04/27/2005 3:12:11 PM PDT by Red Sea Swimmer
RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin became today the first Kremlin leader in history to visit Israel, but there was a cool reaction to his idea for a major regional peace conference.
The proposal for a Middle East peace conference, Israeli concern over Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran, and bitter opposition to Moscow's planned sale of anti-aircraft weapons to Syria were expected to top the agenda.
Flying to Israel from a two-day visit to Egypt, Mr Putin travelled to holy sites in Jerusalem, where he was meeting tomorrow with Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
On Friday, Mr Putin was due to hold talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah - another historic first for a Russian head of state - before returning to Moscow.
The president hopes his tour of the Middle East will reinvigorate Moscow's clout in the region, which has been diminishing steadily since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
However, the highlight of Mr Putin's visit to Egypt - a proposal to host a Middle East peace conference this autumn - prompted a cool reaction in Israel and the United States.
Speaking after talks in Cairo with his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak, Mr Putin said the conference would help advance the so-called "road map" peace plan, which aims to create a Palestinian state and ensure Israeli security.
Russia, along with the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, is one of the sponsors of the largely stalled, two-year-old road map.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev said that an international conference could take place as part of the road map, but added: "we are not even in the roadmap at the moment".
There were similar doubts in Washington, which is Israel's main ally.
"We believe there will be an appropriate time for an international conference, but we are not at that stage now, and I don't expect that we will be there by the fall (autumn)," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.
Only the Palestinians were enthusiastic. Such a conference would help "rapid implementation of the road map", deputy prime minister Nabil Shaath said.
Some of Mr Putin's toughest talks in Israel are likely to centre on Moscow's plan to sell anti-aircraft defences to Syria.
According to the Israeli government the short-range Strelets missiles would not only arm an unfriendly neighbour, but could be smuggled to the Syrian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
"These missiles pose a grave danger to civil aviation because Syria, which supports terrorist organisations, could give them to the Lebanese Hizbollah for example," said a senior official in Sharon's office.
Moscow says it has the right to sell weapons and that the Strelets pose no threat to Israel.
More hard talks are due over Russian help in developing Iran's civilian nuclear program, which Israel, the United States and the European Union fear could mask a secret military agenda.
An Iranian atomic arsenal would transform the balance of power in the region, where Israel is widely considered to be the sole, if undeclared, nuclear force.
Mr Putin repeated that Moscow is "categorically against any kind of military nuclear programs in Iran".
One potential embarrassment for Putin appeared to have been averted when a Moscow court unexpectedly delayed a planned announcement today of a verdict against Russian-Jewish Yukos oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
Mr Khodorkovsky's tax fraud trial has been an international public relations disaster for Mr Putin, whom critics accuse of instigating a witch hunt against potential political rivals.
Israel has said that any extradition request for three other Russian-Jewish "oligarchs" wanted in Russia would be turned down.
Who is stalling the process for an International Peace Conference ?
Where there is a will there is a way !
When the Baal-Shem-Tov was asked by a student...
"Where is a person ?"
"A person is where his will is !"
Where are the wills of the world "leaders" at the moment ?
Scott McClellan and others better get their boots on and start acting, rather than lazily pontificating about what may or may not happen. Trust builiding is a process.
The house will not get built without people doing the work...
P.S. Khodorkovsky is a crook !
Is the pending aircraft sale to Syria, a clever bargaining chip on Putin's part ??
Yup that pending airplane tech still on table I don't trust Pootie Poot
Could be. Moscow's interests in the Near East are rather complex with the fall of communism and the reassertion of the Russian Orthodox Church. The interests of the Orthodox don't quite fit into the usual equation:
Access to the holy sites in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, all of which are under the ecclesiasical control of the Orthodox Church (with the Latins and Armenians having rights to various corners) is paramount.
Lots of Russian Orthodox Christians were considered Jewish under the terms of Israel's Right of Return, which extended automatic Israeli citizenship to anyone whom Hitler would have killed as a Jew, so there are lots of Russian Orthodox Christian Israelis.
On the other hand, the indigeneous Orthodox are all Arabs, and their interests are regularly trampled on by both Muslim Arabs and Israelis.
And finally, since the Assads in Syria are from a very small quasi-Christian branch of Shia Islam, the Alawites (they celebrate some Christian feasts, often take Christian sounding names, and have a quasi-eucharistic commemoration of the death of the Imam Ali), and need the support of other religious minorities to counter the dominant Sunnis, Orthodox Christians are treated better in Syria than in most other countries in the Levant. ('Model 'secular' Turkey', for instance won't allow Christian clergy to serve in Asia Minor, so the Patiarch of Antioch has his cathedral and offices in Damascus (on the Street Called Straight!).)
..so there are lots of Russian Orthodox Christian Israelis.
That is quite a combination and some very interesting history. Will be interesting to see what develops with "Putin's Russia" and the Middle East. It should not take too long to figure out what the interests really are.