Putin and Egyptian President Husni Mubarak also urged the United Nations to play a larger role in Iraq.

"I am suggesting that we should convene a conference for all these countries concerned [with the Middle East peace process] and the Quartet, next autumn," Putin said during a joint news conference with Mubarak on Wednesday.

The Quartet refers to the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia, who have backed the road map to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Offer welcomed

The Palestinians, like the Egyptians, have been pushing for international conferences sooner rather than later, and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat welcomed Putin's offer.

Erekat noted the conference would come after completion of Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and said it could help the push for a final peace deal. Palestinians worry Israeli efforts toward peace will end with the Gaza pullout.

"We support this call, and we believe it's high time to convene such an international conference with the participation of all concerned parties," Erekat said.

"We need to specify the next steps, and an international conference would serve the purpose of resuming permanent status negotiations between the two parties," he said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said Israel wouldn't object to an international conference held under the terms of the road map but said much needs to be done first.

"Israel has accepted the road map, and in the second stage of the road map it specifically mentions a conference," Regev said. "So we don't have a problem with a conference ... but obviously we have not reached the second stage of the road map yet."

Date set in May

Putin said foreign ministers of the quartet will meet in Moscow on May 8 to discuss the Middle East peace process.

He said he would have to discuss the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon when he visits Israel, the next stop on his trip in the region.

Putin's visit to Cairo is the first by a Russian or Soviet leader in four decades.