Putin in Israel, West Bank and Jordan

Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in a whirlwind trip through the Middle East.

Stopping off first in Israel, Putin held meetings with Israeli leaders to discuss Iran, Syria and the stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.

The Russian leader met June 25 with Israeli President Shimon Peres and also attended the dedication of a memorial in the coastal town of Netanya to the Red Army’s victory over Nazi Germany.

At a state dinner that evening, Peres pressed Putin on Iran, asking that he “raise his voice” against a nuclear Iran. Putin responded by saying that Russia has a “national interest” to secure peace and quiet in Israel but did not elaborate further.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following his meeting with Putin, “We agree that Iran’s continued pursuit of nuclear weapons is a grave threat first and foremost to Israel, but also to the region and to the world.” He also said that “a way to end the killing and the terrible suffering of the citizens of Syria must be found, and peace, security and regional stability must be pursued as far as is possible during these turbulent times.”

Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, has backed the government of Bashar Assad against international action to halt the violent crackdown on the uprising in the Arab country that has seen thousands killed.

On the stalled peace process with the Palestinians, Netanyahu said, “The key to peace is complex, but in the end it is very simple: Either President [Mahmoud] Abbas must come here or I must go to him, and I am willing for either of these possibilities to occur. However, we must begin to talk.”

Netanyahu said he hoped Putin would convey the message to the Palestinian Authority president when speaking with Abbas in Bethlehem the next day.

Putin called his visit to Israel “a solid basis for building dialogue and partnership.”

June 26 in Bethlehem, Putin met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and praised him for what he said was a “responsible” position in negotiations with Israel. He said Russia has no problem recognizing a Palestinian state.

Putin also offered veiled criticism of Israel, saying unilateral actions — an apparent reference to Israeli settlement construction — is not constructive. — jta & ap