Russian peace parley efforts leave PM underwhelmed

Olmert tells Lavrov he's not convinced of utility of get-together for the Palestinian track.

Mashaal 224 (photo credit: AP)
Mashaal 224
(photo credit: AP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov arrived in Israel on Thursday, after reportedly saying in Damascus that a touted peace conference in Moscow would deal with the Golan Heights - only to be told by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he is not even convinced of the utility of such a get-together for the Palestinian track. Israel has roundly rejected past attempts to revive the idea of an international peace conference dealing with the Golan. According to the Prime Minister's Office, Lavrov raised the conference idea with Olmert, who remained noncommittal even on the Palestinian track. Olmert, who told Lavrov that he would be holding another meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the near future, said he was not sure of the need for another international conference. The Russians raised the idea of a follow-up to last November's Annapolis Conference, but the idea gained little momentum as both Israel and the US reacted coolly to it. Reuters, meanwhile, reported that while in Damascus, Lavrov - in meetings with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal - said the future of the Golan Heights would be a centerpiece of a Moscow peace conference. During their talks, Olmert told Lavrov - who arrived in Israel directly from Damascus - that there was no change in Israel's position regarding talks with Syria, and that Israel was "studying" ways to move forward the diplomatic process with Damascus. Olmert has said repeatedly that peace talks with Syria would necessitate their ending support for Hizbullah, Hamas and Palestinian terrorism, distancing themselves from Iran, and kicking the terrorist's headquarters out of Damascus. Assad has made clear that Israel must agree to a full withdrawal from the Golan Heights. Israeli officials have said that Russia is eager to play the role of middle-man in talks with Syria, to rival the US's diplomatic supremacy in the region. Syria also came up during a meeting Lavrov held with President Shimon Peres, with Peres saying that Damascus was continuing to transfer weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon, and that this transfer of weapons called into question the sincerity of Syria's signals regarding peace negotiations. Lavrov said Moscow had no information on the matter. Regarding Lavrov's meeting in Damascus with Mashaal, the Russian news agency Itar-Taas reported Lavrov as saying that the goal was to bring about unity between Hamas and Fatah. "We're making contacts with the purpose of helping restore Arab unity, with the view of moving Hamas toward a common Arab platform, and with the purpose of implementing the road map," Lavrov was quoted as saying. "The necessity to restore Palestinians' unity is comprehended by an increasing number of countries, including those who earlier called for isolating Hamas. We observe such sentiments in Europe and other countries. It's a realistic, pragmatic approach," he said. The Iranian issue was a major focus of Lavrov's talks. At a press conference in Tel Aviv after meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, he said that dialogue with Iran should continue regarding its nuclear program, because this would keep Iran within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and keep the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency in the picture. Ending the dialogue with Iran, he said, could led Teheran to abandon the treaty and remove any IAEA leverage. Lavrov and Livni signed a reciprocal agreement doing away with visa requirements for visitors from both countries. Until now, both Russians traveling to Israel, and Israelis going to Russia, needed to first obtain visas, a process that was expensive and often lengthy. The parade of foreign leaders to Israel will continue on Saturday night with the arrival of US Vice President Dick Cheney. Cheney, currently on a regional tour, is scheduled to meet here with Olmert, Defense Minister Barak and Livni, as well as with Palestinian Authority leaders. He is scheduled to leave on Monday morning.