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Russia Pledges Support for Powell Mideast Mission

Russia has offered support to Secretary of State Colin Powell on his upcoming trip to the Middle East, saying all diplomatic efforts must be made to stop the bloodshed there.

Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov pledged his support in a phone call to Mr. Powell as the Secretary of State prepares to leave for the Middle East.

Mr. Ivanov said the goal must be to implement United Nations Security Council resolutions calling on both Israel and the Palestinians to stop fighting.

The Russian Foreign Minister said Russia is willing to do whatever it can to assist Mr. Powell.

Russia has long been a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process along with the United States, although Moscow has taken a back seat to American efforts to achieve a lasting peace.

But Russian leaders including President Vladimir Putin have said the current situation is so serious that the international community must work together to get the two sides talking once again.

President Putin also expressed support for European peace efforts last week during a summit meeting in Russia with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

A Russian envoy to the region met with various European diplomats in Jerusalem last week, but he was called back to Moscow after fighting on the West Bank intensified.

Although it backs U.S. peace efforts in Israel, Russia remains at odds with Washington over another regional issue: relations with Iran.

On Friday Foreign Minister Ivanov challenged the U.S. to prove that Russia is transferring sensitive nuclear technology to Tehran, as the United States maintains.

Mr. Ivanov was speaking at a news conference with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi, who had earlier met with President Putin.

Russian engineers are building a nuclear power plant in Iran and may help build another.

The United States says Moscow is putting nuclear capability in the hands of one of the three countries President Bush has grouped together in what he called an "axis of evil." Russia rejects this, adding that the power plant project is being monitored internationally and will be used only for peaceful purposes.