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(photo credit: GPO)
Likud head Binyamin Netanyahu told visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday that "when" he sets up the next government, he will certainly consider Israel's participation in a Mideast conference the Russians hope to host by mid year.
Sources close to Netanyahu said he told Lavrov that Russia had a "positive contribution" to make to the diplomatic process, and he would deal with the issue once he set up a coalition.
Lavrov met Netanyahu Monday morning after a breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. On Sunday he met with President Shimon Peres' and the other claimant to the prime ministerial crown, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Netanyahu told the Russian diplomat that Tuesday's election results were a clear rejection of the country's current diplomatic policies and that he would stop further unilateral withdrawals that have only created Iranian bases in the north and the south.
Netanyahu said that in order for political negotiations to succeed they needed to be combined with economic development, and he praised the work of Quartet envoy Tony Blair and US security envoy Gen. Keith Dayton for trying to build Palestinian capacity from the "bottom up," and not working "from the top down."
Lavrov went to Ramallah following the talks with Netanyahu and met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who told reporters that "all future dialogue between us and Israel has to be preceded by a total stop of settlement activity (and) the lifting of roadblocks." If the settlement construction is not stopped, he said, "all negotiations will be futile and useless."
Relating to the elections and possibility that Netanyahu may become the next prime minister, Abbas said it was "out of the question" to begin from scratch.
Lavrov, standing beside Abbas, said Russia would "continue our efforts with the aim of restarting the peace process, which will require both parties to respect their obligations under the road map, including a stop to violence and to settlement activity." Sources close to Netanyahu said that more than half of the Likud head's meeting with Lavrov dealt with Iran, with Netanyahu telling his guest that a nuclear Iran was not only an existential threat to Israel, but to Russia as well, since Iran would support the separatist groups inside the country.
"This was a hinge point in history, and a nuclear Iran was completely intolerable," Netanyahu said.
Lavrov reiterated Russia's position that Iran wanted to master the nuclear fuel cycle, but not necessarily develop nuclear arms, and that Moscow was waiting for proof to convince it otherwise.