Who'll blink first? Putin debates Netanyahu on Iran.

The Kremlin, which has long backed a negotiated solution with Iran, isn't going to yield to Israel's objections, say Russian experts.

Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin (r.) shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in the Kremlin today in Moscow. Each is hoping to persuade the other that their respective approach to nuclear talks with Iran is in error.

Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Vladimir Putin Wednesday in what experts say was a last-ditch attempt to persuade Russia to slow the international community's momentum toward a nuclear deal with Iran, as talks open today in Geneva.

A terse note posted on the Kremlin's website said only that Mr. Netanyahu's "brief working visit" dealt with a range of global and regional issues, including bilateral cooperation.

Experts say Mr. Putin, who has warmly welcomed prospects of an accord with Iran at the P5+1 talks – which includes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – is unlikely at this late date to change Moscow's views, which have aligned quite closely with those of Iran.

But news agencies quoted Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin, who accompanied Netanyahu to Moscow, as saying even incremental changes in the Kremlin position could help.

"Our job is to try to sway the Russians, as we have been doing with all the players," he is quoted as saying. "Russia is not going to adopt Israeli positions wholesale. But any movement, even small, in the Russian position can affect the negotiations."

Russian experts said Putin's aim going into the meeting with Netanyahu was to try to persuade the Israeli leader to drop his hardline resistance to any deal with Iran, and to accept that the international community can close an agreement that would arrest Iran's alleged movement toward a nuclear weapon and be good for Israel's security.

"Russia will do its best to convince Israel to soften its irreconcilable stance and drop the demand that sanctions against Iran should be toughened," says Vladimir Sotnikov, a leading Russian Middle East expert.

"The fact that Netanyahu came to Moscow to talk it out with Putin is a positive sign. It's certainly hard to move the Israelis from their positions, but I have some cautious optimism that it can be done. Such talks are a two-way street," he says.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists Wednesday that he believes this round of negotiations will be successful in concluding an accord, despite Israeli opposition and escalating tensions over Tuesday's twin bombings outside the Iranian embassy in Beirut that killed at least 23 people.

"I'm doubtful Netanyahu can change anything. The Russian delegation [to Geneva] has already received its instructions; they know what to do and what to say," says Vladimir Sazhin, an expert with the official Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow.

"Everyone should start looking forward, because much will depend on how Iran cooperates in the framework of the interim agreement," that seems likely to be concluded in Geneva this week, Mr. Sazhin says.

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