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Middle East
Moscow proposes Middle East talks
Russian foreign minister meet Syrian president and exiled Hamas leader.
Last Modified: 21 Mar 2008 13:44 GMT
Lavrov also met Walid al-Moallem, right, his Syrian counterpart [AFP]
Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, and Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, have discussed the possibility of Moscow hosting a Middle East peace conference.

They also spoke about the political crisis in Lebanon, where Syria was the dominant political and military force for decades, during Thursday's meeting in the Syrian capital Damascus.
Andrei Zaitsew, a Russian embassy spokesman, said the talks covered "Middle East problems, particularly Lebanon, and the possibility of holding a peace conference in Moscow".

Ties between the countries have strengthened in recent months with Moscow delivering air defence weapons to Damascus.
Russia said it aims to hold a peace meeting to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which was kickstarted in November at a US conference in the city of Annapolis.

Golan Heights

Lavrov said that Moscow had not yet sent any invitations to the proposed conference and was still working on the framework of the gathering.

Walid al-Moallem, Syria's foreign minister, said his country would attend if the subject of the Golan Heights, territory seized by Israel during the 1967 war, was to be discussed.

"When the subject of the Golan Heights is put on the agenda of such a conference, Syria could not be absent because the comprehensive peace is an essential part in Syria's policy," he said.

Al-Moallem also reiterated Syria's readiness to resume peace talks with Israel "on the condition that this would not affect the Palestinian track".

Talks between Israel and Syria neared agreement in 2000 but broke down over final border and peace arrangements.

Hamas meeting

The Russian foreign minister also met Khaled Meshaal, the exiled Hamas leader, while he was in Damascus.

Meshaal reportedly told Lavrov of Hamas's readiness for a truce with Israel provided that an agreement to end the current hostilities in Gaza were "comprehensive, simultaneous and reciprocal". 

"Palestinian unity must be restored. It is necessary in order to continue negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians"

Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister
He also said that the group was ready to hold talks with Fatah, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president.

After the talks with al-Assad, Lavrov said that Palestinian reconciliation was key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
  
"Palestinian unity must be restored. It is necessary in order to  continue negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," Lavrov said at a news conference.

Delegations from Hamas and the PLO have gathered in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, this week to hold talks on an initiative to heal the rift between them.

Lavrov will meet Fatah officials in the Palestinian Territories on Friday, after holding talks with Israeli leaders late on Thursday.

Ties between Russia and Syria have strengthened in recent months with Moscow delivering air defence weapons to Damascus.

Lebanon crisis

The Lebanon situation is set to dominate an Arab summit in Damascus on March 29-30.

The country has been gripped by its worst political crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war with rival political factions unable to agree a successor to Emile Lahoud, the former president, whose term ended in November.

There have been concerns that several Arab nations will not attend the Arab summit after Saudi Arabia and Egypt accused Syria of obstructing the presidential election. 

Lavrov said Arab countries should "not miss an opportunity to come together to discuss all the issues and find solutions to the problems" adding he hoped the summit would "further Arab unity".

Andrei Zolotov, editor of the Russia Profile magazine, told Al Jazeera that Lavrov's trip seemed to be consistent with Russia's policy of restoring the country as an important player.

"Russia is quite uniquely positioned today to play a contructive role in the Middle East and it confirmed that by its participation in the Annapolis conference."
Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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