Qatar: Arabs Asks Russia to Play Greater Middle East Role
The emir of Qatar asked President Vladimir Putin on Friday to intensify Russia's role in resolving the Middle East violence, Moscow's top diplomat said.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the emir handed Putin a message in which he asked Russia to expand its participation in solving the recent upsurge in violence, which has claimed some 175 lives, most of them Arabs.
"Qatar attaches special attention to relations with Russia," Qatar's Foreign Minister sheikh Hamad Ben Jassem Ben Al-Thani, on a visit to Moscow, told Putin, Interfax reported.
Later in November, Qatar is due to take over the chairmanship of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), although some Arab nations are calling on the Gulf emirate to break all its ties with Israel before assuming the post.
Qatar set up commercial links with the Jewish state in 1996.
Ivanov, who foreign ministry officials said was planning to embark on a tour of the Middle East on November 13, said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dominated Friday's talks.
"They discussed the situation in the Middle East, including those steps that can be taken by the international community," Ivanov said.
"The Arab world attaches great importance to a more active participation by Russia in the Middle East peace process. That is what the Qatari emir's message says," said Ivanov.
The two sides also underlined their mutual interest in the lifting of economic sanctions against Iraq, Ivanov said.
Russia, together with the United States, has since 1991 been a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. But its influence in the region has significantly waned, as was underlined by its absence from October's Sharm el-Sheikh summit in Egypt
Earlier this week Putin said the moribund peace process would stand a better chance if Russia played a greater role.
Nevertheless, Russia's position as a close Arab ally has further been complicated by its 13-month offensive in the predominantly Muslim Chechnya.
Last December, Russian secret services accused Qatar of being the main financial backer of Chechen rebels, and of supporting "Islamist extremists everywhere in the world."
On Friday, Ivanov said Putin informed the Qatari emir about Russia's efforts "to regulate the situation" in the separatist North Caucasus province.
He said that Moscow was ready to hold an open dialogue with OIC states about any concerns the Arab world may hold over the war.
In response, Ivanov said, Qatar's foreign minister said that other Islamic states view the war as Russia's internal affair, but at the same time were prepared to offer Chechens humanitarian assistance.
Putin responded that Russia was a multi-ethnic state in which many religious creeds have co-existed for generations.
"Russia is a country of many creeds," Putin said. "For centuries, Christians and Muslims have lived together, building a common state" -- MOSCOW (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)