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Abbas in Moscow to Push for Mideast Peace Conference

By Colin McCullough
17 April 2008

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Moscow earlier this week. In meetings with Russian officials, Mr. Abbas will discuss the Mideast peace process and plans for a Mideast conference Russia is expected to host. From Moscow, Colin McCullough reports for the VOA.

Mr. Abbas arrived Wednesday evening and is scheduled to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday.

On Thursday, the Palestinian president spoke at Moscow's State Institute for International Relations, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate.

He told the audience that the international conference will be held in Moscow in June.

He said the conference is needed to move the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians forward. He added that he hopes it will also lay the groundwork for peace agreements between Israel and Syria and Lebanon.

He said talks with Israel since the Annapolis, Maryland conference last November have hit roadblocks.

The talks, which aim to reach a peace agreement by the end of this year, have stalemated over Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel, launched from the Gaza Strip, and Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Russia has recently strengthened its ties with the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank.

But although it is a member of the so-called Middle East Quartet, Moscow also has relations with Hamas, and senior members of Hamas have been invited to Moscow for talks with Russian officials.

The Quartet, which also includes the U.N., Europe and the United States, says Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is a terrorist group.

Alexey Malashenko is a Scholar-in-Residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center.

He says Russia has recognized Hamas to enhance its influence in the region and to establish its niche in the Middle East. He adds that Russia's Middle East policy allows the government to talk with radical Islamic groups.

A Russian foreign ministry official confirmed Thursday that Hamas representatives would not be invited to the upcoming summit.

Israel's government has expressed reservations about a Mideast conference in Moscow and has not yet said whether it will attend.

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