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Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Medvedev Urges from Syria US Action in 'Very Bad' Mideast Situation

11/05/2010 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev called in Syria on Tuesday for a more active US role in the Middle East peace process, saying the situation in the region was "very bad" and risked worsening further.

Medvedev, the first Russian head of state to visit Syria, said Moscow was ready and determined to play its part in creating the will for a peace settlement. He promised Russian assistance to Syria in reconstructing its oil and gas infrastructure and even in building a nuclear power station.

"In essence, the Middle East peace process has deteriorated," Medvedev said speaking alongside his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad after two days of talks in Damascus. "The situation is very, very bad. It's time to do something," the Russian leader said.

"I agree with President Assad - the American side could take a more active position. A further heating up of the situation in the Middle East is fraught with an explosion and a catastrophe."

Medvedev's visit comes against the backdrop of a nearly 18-month-old suspension of Turkish-led peace efforts between Israel and Syria and a mounting war of words between the two foes over Israeli accusations that Syria has been arming Hezbollah with Scud missiles.

It also comes as renewed US-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians run into difficulties over Israeli settlement expansion in occupied Jerusalem.

"There is not enough desire" on all sides to find a solution, said Medvedev, whose government is part of the so-called Quartet working for a Middle East settlement alongside the European Union, the United Nations and the United States. "This desire needs to be stimulated," he said, adding that that was a role that Russia could and would take upon itself.

The Russian leader said that the end result of Middle East peace talks needed to be the liberation of the occupied Arab territories and the creation of an independent Palestinian place that could co-exist peacefully with “Israel”.

However, Assad said "even during a stalemate, there are elements that can take steps to increase the opportunities for peace, or, on the contrary, take steps that may completely foil the peace process."

"We consider the expulsion of Palestinians from Jerusalem and the attacks on holy sites, as well as the siege on Gaza, as steps that may completely foil the peace process," Assad said.

For Syria, the return of the strategic Golan Heights, which Israel seized in the Six-Day War of 1967 and annexed in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community, is a non-negotiable condition of any peace agreement.

Turkey, Medevdev's next port of call after Damascus, brokered indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel in 2008 but they were broken off when Israel launched a devastating offensive against the Gaza Strip that December killing over 1400 Palestinians, including 420 children and injuring more than 5300 others.

Before his talks in Damascus, the Russian leader held a "lengthy" telephone call with Israeli President Shimon Peres during which he was asked to convey a message to the Syrian leader, Peres's office said on Sunday. Peres said that "Israel has no interest in a war with Syria or in heating up the northern border and that Israel is seeking a genuine peace with its Syrian neighbor."

Neither Assad nor Medvedev made any reference to the Israeli message but the Syrian leader said that Israel was "not yet a reliable negotiating partner."

The two men pledged to put a major focus on the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They called on Israel to withdraw from the Syrian Golan Heights as well as "all other Arab lands occupied in June 1967."

Ahead of their talks on Tuesday, the Syrian leader had called for Russian help in achieving a just and comprehensive peace that saw the return of the Golan which Israel annexed in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.

"It is a vitally important issue" for Syria, Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency quoted him as saying.

"The parties express deep concern over the remaining dangerous tension in the Middle East, first and foremost as the result of the continuing Israeli occupation, and condemn Israel settlement activity and any unilateral attempts towards occupied Arab land, including east Jerusalem," they said.

He called for Russian help in convincing Israel to take a "more constructive position" and echoed Medvedev's call for a more active US role in the peace process.

Medvedev pledged Russian assistance with Syria's will to restore its role as transit route for oil and gas between the Gulf and the Mediterranean by helping it build up its pipeline infrastructure.

He also voiced Russian readiness to build a nuclear power station in Syria as it has long been doing in Iran - Syria's main regional ally - over strong US objections.

Both Assad and Medvedev called for a negotiated settlement of Iran's standoff with the West over its nuclear program. "Russia and Syria stress their commitment to reaching a peaceful diplomatic settlement to the Iranian nuclear program and support efforts to look for an appropriate negotiated solution," their joint statement said.

Assad said, "It is every country's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes", and with the same breath charged that the Middle East should be stripped of nuclear weapons. The Syrian President added that sanctions on Iran would be ineffective.


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