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Moscow Increases Mideast Involvement - 2002-04-07

Russia is stepping up its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, with the Foreign Minister working the telephone and planning a series of meetings for the coming week.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has talked by phone with leaders on both sides of the conflict as well as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr. Ivanov warned Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that his country's military offensive into the West Bank poses a serious threat to Israel and the Middle East in general.

Mr. Ivanov also told Mr. Sharon that Russia hopes violence on all sides will end immediately.

The Russian Foreign Ministry also says Mr. Ivanov held a separate phone conversation with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He expressed concern about the rising number of Palestinian casualties due to Israel's military actions.

Mr. Arafat reportedly told the Russian foreign minister he was ready to call a ceasefire and resume talks with Israel.

Mr. Ivanov says the continuing violence is destroying the infrastructure built up during the peace process.

Russia has long been a co-sponsor of that process, although it hasn't been as active as the United States over the years.

But President Vladimir Putin says the situation now calls for more active involvement by the entire international community.

Mr. Ivanov has also been in close contact by phone with Secretary of State Colin Powell, who embark on a trip to Europe and the Middle East late Sunday.

Mr. Ivanov is scheduled to meet Mr. Powell as well as European diplomats next week in Madrid to discuss the situation.

Historically Russia has had close ties with the Palestinians, especially during Soviet times. However, in recent years, relations with Israel have become increasingly cordial.