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Russia plays up its international role – especially in Mideast peace

It chaired a special meeting Monday of the Security Council that endorsed the idea of holding a Middle East peace conference in Moscow this year.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 12, 2009

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks to reporters during a news conference on Monday, at UN headquarters.

Mary Altaffer/AP

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United Nations, N.Y.

Russia is moving to reassert its role in the Middle East – and in particular in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – as President Obama prepares to receive principal leaders in the conflict at the White House in the coming weeks.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov chaired a special meeting Monday of the United Nations Security Council that endorsed the idea of holding a Middle East peace conference in Moscow this year. In a presidential statement, the Security Council also called on all parties to honor past international accords – a clear nudge to a wavering Israeli government to embrace the concept of a two-state solution, in which a new Palestine would exist next to Israel.

Also on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Egypt with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, declaring that Israel wants to renew negotiations with the Palestinians "in the coming weeks." But he again refrained from endorsing a two-state solution.

The New York meeting, which drew the foreign ministers of France, Britain, and Japan, among others, comes as Mr. Obama prepares to receive the new Israeli prime minister at the White House on May 18. Mr. Netanyahu will be followed soon thereafter by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

All eyes will be on those meetings – especially on Netanyahu's to see if he continues to omit public mention or endorsement of a two-state solution.

But as the rotating president of the Security Council, Russia sees an opportunity to insert the international community – and raise Russia's own profile – in the Middle East proceedings, experts in the region say.

"It's about showing Russia is a player," says Daniel Levy, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation in Washington. With the crucial Washington meetings coming up, the international community "and in particular the Russians want to have a hand in that and to influence that," he says.

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