Putin in Israel, West Bank for talks on Iran, Syria
NETANYA - Agence France- Presse
In this photo made Thursday, June 21, 2012 Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, watches a fight at the M-1 Global mixed martial arts tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Presidential Press Service)
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives in Israel on Monday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders against the backdrop of sustained violence in Syria and concern on Iran's nuclear programme.
Putin is scheduled to arrive at 0805 GMT and will hold talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres on Tuesday, as well as unveil a World War II memorial in the town of Netanya.
On Tuesday, Putin heads to the West Bank, and will meet with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, before travelling on to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.
On the eve of the trip, Putin's top foreign policy aide, Yury Ushakov, said it would highlight "the importance of this region for us and is designed to further strengthen Russia's position here." "Of course, the Syrian topic and the situation around Iran will be discussed in detail," he said.
Moscow and the West have been at loggerheads over the Syrian conflict, with the Kremlin refusing to support sanctions against its Soviet-era ally and resisting outside intervention.
An estimated 15,000 people have been killed in the country since the March 2011 uprising to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad began.
Russia is pushing for an international Syria conference and has already discussed that plan with Jordan, which is part of the Arab League, as well as the European Union, Iran and Iraq.
And it has shown little enthusiasm for regime change, despite multiple international calls for Assad to step down.
Also high on Putin's agenda will be the issue of Iran's nuclear programme, which is a key concern for the Jewish state.
Israel and much of the international community believes Iran's nuclear programme masks a weapons drive, and the United States has led a push for tough sanctions against Tehran.
Israel has said the programme poses an existential threat to the Jewish state, and warned it reserves the right to use all means necessary to respond, including military force.
The international community has been pursuing talks with Tehran in recent months, but three high-level meetings -- the most recent held in Moscow -- have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
The P5+1 group (the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China) has agreed to another round of discussion on July 3 in Istanbul, but Israel has warned that lengthy talks give Iran time to continue uranium enrichment.
Putin is also expected to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process in his talks with Netanyahu and Abbas.
The process is in a deep freeze, with direct negotiations on hold since late September 2010.
The Quartet grouping, which brings together the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia, has sought to nudge the sides back to the table. But the Palestinians say they will not hold new talks without an Israeli settlement freeze and an agreement on the parameters for discussions on final borders.