(photo credit: Associated Press)
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that next month's Moscow talks with Hamas leaders were aimed at bringing the Palestinian group into the Mideast peace process.
"We are counting on all this to foster progress toward a situation in which Hamas will be a legitimate, integral and useful part of the peace process in the Middle East," Lavrov told reporters.
He stressed that Russian officials in the talks would negotiate in accordance with the agreed position of the so-called quartet of Mideast peace mediators: Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.
"We will be guided by the agreed position of the quartet," Lavrov said. "We will continue the work that the leadership of many Middle East regional countries have conducted with the Hamas leadership."
He said Palestinian and Russian officials were still deliberating on the composition of the delegation to the talks.
Earlier Friday, Russia's special Mideast envoy, Alexander Kalugin said that Russian officials would make no demands of Hamas when they meet with the group's leaders in Moscow early next month, according to the Interfax news agency.
"During our meeting, we will not put forth any demands. They themselves should take a decision on steps that meet the interests of the Palestinian people and help resolve the issues on the agenda of Palestinian-Israeli relations," Kalugin was quoted as saying.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his decision to invite the Hamas for talks earlier this month, defying the Quartet's set of preconditions for talks with the group, Russia sent an official invitation to Hamas leaders Thursday.
The Hamas delegation is scheduled to visit Moscow during the first week of March, and the Russian side will set out the position approved by the so-called Quartet of Mideast peace negotiators, Kalugin was quoted as saying.
"We just want them to transform themselves in a positive manner. We are not going to sit at the table banging our fists; they know what the international community wants them to do," he said.
The invitation is the latest bid by Moscow to invigorate its role in Mideast after years of taking a back seat to the United States. The invitation stunned Israel and other nations.