Putin visits West Bank, tours key Christian shrine

Bethlehem, West Bank: Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, after touring the church built over Jesus' traditional birth grotto in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

A day earlier, Putin visited Israel where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged Russia to step up pressure on Iran to curb its suspect nuclear program. Putin said his talks with Netanyahu covered the situation in Iran and the bloody uprising in Syria, but added that he saw negotiations as the only solution for such matters.

At a state dinner later Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres pressed Putin further, 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.

With close ties to Iran and a vote on the powerful UN Security Council, Russia is seen as an important player in the region that could influence Tehran, though it has in the past watered down international pressure on the Islamic Republic. Russia is also seen as Syrian President Bashar Assad's closest ally. Assad has drawn international condemnations for his bloody crackdown on the country's armed uprising.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, presents the Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III, second left, with an icon during a visit to the Holy Sepulcher, in Jerusalem. AP

Putin's meeting with Abbas on Tuesday was expected to focus on the deadlock over restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, on hold for almost four years. Russia is a member of the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators, along with the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Of the four, Russia is seen as the most sympathetic to the Palestinians, but has little sway over the group because the United States has traditionally claimed the dominant role in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians.

Russia is also the only Quartet member to maintain contacts with Abbas' main Palestinian rival, the Islamic militant Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since seizing it from Abbas in a violent 2007 takeover. In recent months, renewed Palestinian reconciliation efforts have stalled, even though Abbas and Hamas' supreme leader, Khaled Mashaal, said they are willing to work toward a solution.


Updated Date: Jun 26, 2012 15:29 PM

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