Moscow irks Washington by insisting

Syria be included in peace talks


By Dmitry Astakhov

Itar-Tass – Reuters - AP


AMMAN, Jordan – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday renewed his call for a regional conference to put the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track.


Putin's proposal would engage Syria in the talks, a prospect likely to unsettle Washington.


"We confirm our call for a broad international conference in the Middle East and we see the number of supporters of this proposal growing," Putin said in a statement that he read to reporters as he stood alongside Jordan’s King Abdullah.


"But it should be well prepared and the agenda [should] include the Palestinian and the Lebanese and Syrian tracks," he said.


Putin, who spoke after three hours of closed-door talks with the Jordanian monarch, first called for a Middle East peace conference during a visit to Egypt in 2005. He suggested at the time that the conference be held in Moscow.


King Abdullah said Tuesday that Russia had an important role to play in the peace process.


"President Putin and I agreed that negotiations toward the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state should be accelerated," he said.


Later Tuesday, Putin met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and expressed hope that economic sanctions against the Palestinian government would be lifted soon.


"We hope that very soon conditions will be created for lifting the blockade. It will be lifted to allow you to take the next step toward full-scale settlement," Putin was heard telling Abbas at the start of their 50-minute talks at Amman's airport.


He also told Abbas that it would be "very useful" if an Israeli soldier captured in Gaza last June was freed.


Abbas told Putin that "if there are no unpleasant surprises," the Hamas government would resign in the next two or three days and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas would then form a government with Abbas' rival Fatah faction.


(In yesterday’s edition, True North reported on the resignation — Editor.)


Fatah and Hamas agreed at Saudi-sponsored talks in Mecca last week to form a unity government to end a year-old international economic embargo imposed on Haniyeh's government because of Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel.


Russia is a member of the Middle East Quartet that includes the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.


Putin has stressed the differences between Russia and U.S. policies on the Middle East throughout his tour, which earlier took him to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.


A statement released after Putin's meeting with Abdullah focused on economic cooperation. It said agreements had been signed for the sale of Russian Ka-226 general purpose helicopters and the possible assembly in Jordan of AvtoVAZ's Lada cars.


Also Tuesday, Putin paid a quick visit to the biblical baptismal site on River Jordan.


He thanked Abdullah for a plot of land that Jordan had given Russia to build a Russian Orthodox church there.