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Sharon, Putin meet in Moscow - 2001-09-04

Russian President Vladimir Putin has told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon he is alarmed at the escalating violence in the Middle East. Mr. Sharon is in Moscow seeking Russian support for ending the Israeli-Palestinian unrest and he would like to convince Russia not to sell weapons to Iran.

Opening their talks in the Kremlin, President Putin said Russia is prepared to make a substantial contribution toward resolving the Israel Palestinian conflict. Mr. Putin said Russia's good ties with Israel and its traditionally good relations with Arab nations put it in a good position to help.

The Kremlin meeting took place just hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in central Jerusalem, injuring about a dozen people. On Monday four bombs exploded in various parts of Jerusalem and there have been continued clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen.

Prime Minister Sharon is likely to ask Russia to put pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to halt the violence.

President Putin condemned what he called acts of terrorism against civilians. The President said there can be no excuse for such actions. He also said Russia is very concerned about the plight of the Israeli people, many of whom come from Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union. "We are not indifferent to the fate of these people," he said, adding that they should be able to live in peace, prosperity and safety.

Mr. Sharon has repeatedly characterized the Palestinian uprising as simple terrorism, likening it to the situation in Chechnya where Russian troops are fighting against separatist rebels. President Putin has taken a hard-line approach against Chechen rebels and Mr. Sharon is hoping for sympathy for tough Israeli action against the Palestinians.

Mr. Sharon met earlier in the day with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who said that proposals for peace are on the table. Mr. Ivanov repeated calls for both sides to implement a U.S.-brokered cease-fire and a blueprint for resuming peace talks, as outlined in the Mitchell report. Israel and the Palestinians have agreed to the plan in principle, but have yet to implement any of its proposals. Mr. Ivanov is expected to discuss proposals for ending the violence with a senior Palestinian delegation due in Moscow on Friday.

Prime Minister Sharon said he also came to Moscow to boost bilateral trade. And, he would like to convince Russia not to sell weapons and military technology to Iran. Israel says Iran poses a major threat to the whole Middle East, especially if it is able to upgrade its arsenal and develop nuclear weapons.

Russia has said it will sell only defensive weapons to Iran and it has announced plans to help Iran build and equip nuclear power stations. Analysts say Russia is not likely to be swayed from those decisions, despite objections from Israel and the United States.

Iran's Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani was supposed to be in Moscow this week for talks about buying Russian weapons, including tanks, jet fighters and long-range anti aircraft missiles. But Mr. Shamkhani has postponed his visit so it would not overlap with that of Mr. Sharon. No new date has been set for his trip.