Assad to discuss ME peace process in Russia

Officials say Syrian president's visit to Moscow a Russian attempt to get more involved in the indirect talks.

assad paris 224 88  ap (photo credit: AP [file])
assad paris 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Syrian President Bashar Assad is scheduled to visit Moscow next week, the Russian News Agency RIA Novosti reported Monday. Assad last visited Moscow in December 2006, and Israeli officials Monday dismissed the notion that this visit was in any way linked to Israel's sales of weapons to Georgia. Although there was some concern in Jerusalem that if Israel did not dramatically reduce weapons shipments to Tbilisi, Russia would sell more advanced weaponry to Syria and Iran, Israeli officials estimated that the visit was a Russian effort to get more involved in the indirect Israeli-Syrian track. Israel has, over the last few months, considerably reduced arms sales to Tbilisi, and has only given licenses for defensive weapons. "Russia wants to be a player here," one Israeli diplomatic official said, "and I don't imagine that they were very happy that the Syrians are demanding greater US involvement in the Syrian-Israeli talks before agreeing to direct negotiations. They also want to be involved." On his last visit to Moscow, Assad reportedly expressed interest in procuring Russia's S-300 air and missile defense system, but to no avail. Israel is now trying to keep Russia from selling this state-of-the-art system to Iran, which is also interested in buying it. The Russian news agency, quoting a spokesman for the Syrian information ministry, said Assad's trip will take place on August 20 and last two weeks. The report said Assad would meet Russian leaders and discuss bilateral relations, as well as world and regional developments, in particular the Middle East diplomatic process and the situation in Iraq. In addition to meeting the Russian leaders in Moscow, Assad - who Israeli officials have said is already benefiting from the indirect talks with Jerusalem by improving his situation in the west - is expected to host French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner at the end of the month to prepare for a visit by mid-September of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Sarkozy, whose invitation to Assad in July to come to Paris and take part in a summit of Mediterranean and EU countries seemed to open the door to the West, said in Paris at the time that he intended to visit Syria by mid-September.