The Russian Foreign Minister started his trip to the region with a visit to Damascus where he had meetings with Syrian President Bashar Asad and other officials on March 19 to discuss the situation in the Middle East and conciliation process revival prospects. In this context, the parties agreed with an idea to postpone the Moscow Conference to May 2008 to have a two-month pause to provide for unity of the Palestinians and resolve the long-lasting internal political crisis in Lebanon.
In Damascus, Serguei Lavrov also had consultations with Haled Mashal, Head of Islamic Resistance Movement HAMAS, to hear his proposals for resolution of the conflict with the Palestinian National Administration, and urged HAMAS to stop its armed confrontation with Israel. The top Russian Diplomat noted: “Termination of rocket firing at Israel from the territory of the Gaza Strip will guarantee full and comprehensive armistice. Any other way to peace is ineffective.” Serguei Lavrov also urged Haled Mashal to change the position of HAMAS and recognize the Jewish state.
On March 20, at negotiations in Tel Aviv the Russian and Israeli Foreign Ministers signed an agreement on free travel of their citizens. The parties also discussed the positions of their countries on the eve of the international conference.
According to Israeli newspaper “Ma’ariv”, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “refused to participate in the Summit at this stage” and said that he sees no sense in its conduct. In particular, he expressly claimed: “The question is if it is effective to promote the talk like this – we are in direct negations with the Palestinians now. Should we feel a need in such additional element as the international conference, we will be able to establish necessary contacts ourselves. Currently such Summit will do no good”.
Today, Serguei Lavrov is to have negotiations with the Palestinian Administration in Ramalah (the west bank of the Jordan River). Key items of the agenda at the meeting with Mahmud Abbas and other officials of legal Palestinian authorities will be conciliation with HAMAS and restoration of Palestinian unity. Russia is ready to contribute to this process, and believes it is fundamental for the Conference.
At the same time, talks between HAMAS and Palestinian National Administration expected to be held in Sana (Yemen) under the sponsorship of President Abdallah Saleh failed - the radicals refused to meet “in the situation of a preconditioned dialogue”.
So, the results of the Lavrov’s trip to the Middle East show that the peace process in this region is not only far from its destination but also unfortunately torpedoed again by well-known parties.
Moscow does not want to abandon the fundamental basis of the Middle East conflict settlement, which lies in establishment of lasting and overall peace with due regard for the interests of all parties. First of all, it includes withdrawal of Israeli troops from all occupied Arab territories, establishment of a peaceful Arab Palestinian state in exchange for recognition by Arab countries (first of all, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine) of the Jewish state and conclusion of peace agreements with it.
Evidently, even minimum positive results of the Moscow Conference would facilitate restoration of former Russian influence in the region, which is opposed by Israel and its patron – the USA.