Iran, Syria on agenda for Putin's Israel visit

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 25, 2012 6:57 AM
Iran, Syria on agenda for Putin's Israel visit

By Gleb Bryanski

NETANYA, Israel (Reuters) - Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday urged visiting Russian President Valdimir Putin to take steps to avert the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran and to stop the bloodshed in Syria.

Putin's trip to Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Jordan is seen as an effort to increase Russia's clout in the region at a time when the West and some Arab nations have criticized Moscow's stance opposing their efforts to force out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"I am certain that Russia, which smote fascism, will not allow similar threats -- not an Iranian threat and not Syrian bloodshed," Peres said at a ceremony in the central Israeli city of Netanya, where Putin dedicated a monument to the Red Army's battles against Nazi Germany in World War Two.

Israeli officials said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intended to discuss Iran and Syria with Putin during a meeting they will hold later in the day in Jerusalem.

His visit starts one day after the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsy was declared the winner of Egypt's presidential election, an outcome that has also raised Israeli concern.

Israeli cabinet minister Dan Meridor urged Russia to back further sanctions against Iran to curb a uranium enrichment program that Israel and the West believe is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran says its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes only.

"I hope Russia joins the sanctions regime, which would greatly enhance it," Meridor said in a speech before Putin arrived.

Along with the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany, Russia has been holding talks with Iran to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons, and hosted inconclusive talks with Tehran last week.

But Russia takes a softer tack than the Western nations, opposing any further sanctions against Iran and urging Israel not to attack its nuclear sites. Putin has said Russia has no proof Tehran is seeking to become a nuclear-armed power.

In the Syrian conflict, Russia has brushed aside U.S. and Arab calls to stop sending weapons to the Syrian government, saying it supplies only defensive arms. It has also used its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to defend Syria.

Assad has helped Russia keep a foothold in the Middle East by buying billions of dollars worth of weapons and hosting a maintenance facility for the Russian navy, its only permanent warm-water port outside the former Soviet Union.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)