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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.

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At a press conference following the Security Council meeting, Mr. Lavrov noted that the United States, in a Council statement delivered Monday by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, called for "integrating" the Arab peace initiative of 2005 into the peace process. The Arab peace initiative, which was not enthusiastically embraced by the Bush administration, calls for full Arab recognition of the state of Israel, in exchange for Israel accepting a Palestinian state over most of the West Bank and Gaza.

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The presidential statement, Lavrov emphasized, calls on all parties to work forward from established principles and signed accords "and not to start from Square 1" – a signal to Israel to end its ambiguity about a two-state solution.

Lavrov chaired the New York meeting on the same day that Moscow announced that Obama will visit Moscow on July 6-8 for a summit with President Dmitry Medvedev. That coincidence only underscores how recent steps by Moscow are as much about establishing a new leadership role in international diplomacy as they are about the Middle East peace process, some regional analysts say.

"What they are doing here is taking advantage of their one-month presidency of the UN Security Council," says Richard Murphy, an independent international consultant and former US ambassador to Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Russia is also more interested in establishing a working relationship with the US as part of its international role, Mr. Murphy says, and less drawn to antagonizing the US.

The former Soviet Union's strident support of Palestinian rights in the 1970s and '80s "was as much about its opposition [to the US] as it was fondness for the Palestinian cause," he says. But now, working with the US and playing a constructive leadership role on the Security Council is a bigger part of establishing a new global leadership role, he adds.

"There was a time when the Russians had a much better relationship with the Palestinians than we had, when they cultivated the Palestinian leadership as they did the Syrians," Murphy says. "But that role has blurred with the end of the cold war, and one gets the sense they are still finding their way in terms of the role they can play."