Putin, Barak Hold Phone Talks ahead of Arafat Visit
Russian President Vladimir Putin held telephone talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday, only hours ahead of a visit by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
The Kremlin, in a statement, said Putin told Barak that Russia would do all it could to help reach a peace compromise despite last month's collapse of the Camp David peace talks.
The statement made no mention of Arafat's intention to declare a Palestinian state next month, with or without a peace deal with Israel.
Barak for his part sent Putin his condolences for a bomb blast in Moscow that killed eight people and injured some 100 others on Tuesday, the Kremlin said.
The two sides vowed to unite in their fight against "aggressive separatism and all forms of terrorism," said the Kremlin statement.
Arafat was due to arrive in Moscow late Thursday from Tehran, where he is making an extensive tour of Arab states to explain his stance at last month's failed Camp David summit.
Arafat is due to meet with Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on Friday. Palestinian authorities in Moscow said Arafat was due to leave Moscow early Saturday.
Moscow, a co-sponsor with the United States of the Middle East peace process launched in Madrid in 1991, has recently taken a back seat as its global influence dwindled and economy collapsed after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Moscow has also adopted a cautious approach ahead of Arafat's visit, aware that with its weak economy it cannot match US offers of massive aid to finance a peace settlement.
During meetings with Putin and Ivanov, Arafat will press Moscow to assume its full role as a co-sponsor of the peace process, a top Palestinian representative in Russia said.
Diplomats however caution that Arafat should not count on unqualified Russian support during his stay.
Ties between Israel Moscow have warmed in recent years.
A Russian diplomatic source was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency that Arafat had "every reason formally" to declare an independent Palestinian state.
But the source said Russia would continue to "do everything in its power" to ensure that all parties "refrain from any unilateral move that could destabilize the region." - MOSCOW (AFP)
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