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Sharon Praised by Russian President for Ending Siege of Arafat Compound - 2002-09-30

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Israel's Prime Minister Monday that he welcomes the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound. Mr. Putin made the remark following lengthy talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Moscow.

Mr. Sharon received praise in Moscow at the start of Kremlin talks with President Putin focusing on a host of Middle East issues.

Mr. Putin said he welcomes Mr. Sharon's decision to remove the 10 day blockade of Yasser Arafat's headquarters. Mr. Putin added that the decision must have been difficult to make but he said he believed it to be the right course of action.

Russia is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process and a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

During their talks, the Russian and Israeli leaders also discussed the possibility of U.S. led military action against Iraq. Russia strongly opposes such action.

President Putin repeated his position that the top priority should be getting U.N. weapons inspectors back into Iraq as soon as possible.

Mr. Sharon raised his concerns that Iraq and Iran are trying to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.

On Tuesday, Mr. Sharon is scheduled to meet the head of Russia's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy the Second.

His talks with the patriarch will reportedly deal with the church's call for a halt to Russian orthodox pilgrimages to the Holy Land, amid the ongoing violence.