Amos Gilad, the head of the Defense Ministry's Political-Security Bureau, is scheduled to go to Moscow Sunday for two days of talks expected to focus on Iran and arms sales to Arab countries. Gilad's trip follows by less then a week a visit here by Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, and according to diplomatic officials in Jerusalem is an indication of an interest by both sides in continuing the "momentum" in Israeli-Russian relations stemming from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's talks in Moscow last month.
Russia sends air-defense system to Iran
During that visit, Olmert not only met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but also paid a rare visit for a foreign leader to the Russian defense ministry and had a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov. Gilad is also expected to discuss with his Russian counterparts the possibility of mutual high-level visits to talk about defense related issues.
There were extensive discussions during the Olmert trip about the fact that Russian-made Fagot and Kornet anti-tank missiles were found in Hizbullah's arsenals in south Lebanon. Following Israeli protests, the Russians have said that they have instituted firmer guidelines to ensure that there is more control over arms sold to the Middle East.
Israeli officials said that Saltanov's visit here last week, as part of his swing to a number of countries in the region, was part of a Russian effort to take a more assertive role in the diplomatic process here.
Russia, along with the US, European Union and UN, make up the Quartet, and the officials said that the Russians don't want to be left "on the side" in the Quartet deliberations, following the US and EU's lead.
A meeting of Quartet representatives is expected to take place this week, either on the sidelines of the EU-Med meeting in Finland that begins on Monday, or a meeting Tuesday of the foreign ministers of G-8 and Arab countries in Amman. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is scheduled to attend the conference in Finland, and is to meet with a number of European and Arab foreign ministers.
Saltanov, according to Israeli sources, urged Israel last week to take seriously signals from Syrian President Bashar Assad about an interest in negotiations, and not to dismiss them out of hand.
Olmert's position on talks with Syria is that Assad first has to show he is serious by stopping his support for terrorist organizations, kicking the Hamas leadership out of Damascus, and ending arms shipments to Hizbullah.