Medvedev to push peace talks on rare Middle East tour

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev this week embarks on a rare visit to the Middle East in an effort to push forward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after US-brokered talks stalled last year.

The centrepiece of the visit are a trip to Jericho, an ancient oasis town in the West Bank and talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday, followed by a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah on Wednesday.

Russia competes with the United States for influence in the Middle East where it seeks to promote itself as a key power broker.

Medvedev's trip comes ahead of a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers -- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- that will meet on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich next month in an effort to give fresh impetus to the stalled negotiations.

"The upcoming talks with the Palestinian leadership follow the logic of Russia's fundamental commitment to reinvigorate international efforts to stabilise the situation and achieve peace in the Middle East," the Kremlin said in a statement ahead of the visit.

US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have deadlocked over the issue of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem.

The Palestinians walked out of direct peace talks three weeks after they started in September when Israel baulked at extending a 10-month partial freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank.

Some analysts say however Moscow's influence in the Middle East is somewhat exaggerated.

"Both the Arabs and Israel believe that Russia should take a more pro-active stance there. But so far Russia has not demonstrated an active interest in the region, its influence is not felt there," said Victor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute for USA and Canada Studies.

"It would be good to make a visit to recall that Russia also participates in the talks. Not to bring proposals that no-one will pay attention to but just make contact."

The last trip to the West Bank by a Russian leader was in 2005, when ex-president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited the region.

Medvedev's top foreign policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said Russia was not so ambitious as to believe it could single-handedly re-start the peace talks.

"That would be a very high hurdle," he said. "We do not consider ourselves a messiah."

"We are ready to demonstrate a responsible approach and share that responsibility with everyone."

Medvedev's Middle Eastern tour had initially been scheduled to include a stop in Israel but Jerusalem asked the Kremlin earlier this month to postpone the visit because Israeli foreign ministry workers went on strike in a pay dispute.

In Amman, talks to expand cooperation in the arms and nuclear spheres will be high on the agenda, said Prikhodko, reiterating Moscow's interest in helping Jordan build its first nuclear power plant.

"They should take a decision concerning a site and we should make a decision regarding a loan," added Prikhodko.

© 2011 AFP

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