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Moscow Says Upcoming Talks Aim to Bring Hamas Into Mideast Peace Process


Russia's foreign minister say he hopes the Palestinian group, Hamas, will decide to become a legitimate part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Hamas leaders are due to travel to Moscow in early March for talks with Russian officials that come after its recent victory in parliamentary elections.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says Russia intends to work with the leaders of Hamas in the hope the radical group will decide to become part of the peace process.

Mr. Lavrov says that the upcoming talks in Moscow will adhere to the principles set out by the so-called Quartet, which includes the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia.

Mr. Lavrov says that Russia will follow the agreed stand of the four intermediaries, and hopes this will lead to a situation, in which Hamas will become a legitimate and integral part of the peace process.

Russia has been seeking to clarify its position on the talks ever since President Vladimir Putin made his surprise announcement inviting Hamas to Moscow a week ago.

The move was harshly criticized by Israel, and there have been calls for a possible cut-off of aid to the Palestinians, unless Hamas agrees to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

Critics have accused the Kremlin of applying double standards by agreeing to talk with a group that is considered a terrorist organization by much of the international community.

At the same time, Russia has staunchly refused to negotiate with separatist rebels who have been fighting Russian troops for over a decade in the region of Chechnya.

Russia does not consider Hamas a terrorist group, and its Moscow invitation is seen as a way to reassert its role in Mideast peacemaking efforts.

The Soviet Union maintained strong ties with the Palestinians during the Cold War, and some analysts say Russia may have some leverage with Hamas leaders now.

Earlier Friday, Russia's Middle East envoy said Moscow will not make any formal demands at the March talks.

Alexander Kalugin says he hopes Hamas leaders will decide on their own what is best for the Palestinian people, adding that the group knows what the international community wants them to do.

Despite such assurances, Israel remains skeptical that Hamas will change once in power.

On Thursday, a senior Western diplomat in Moscow said that Russia has promised to deliver a straight and direct message to Hamas within the framework set out by the Quartet.

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