Russia attempted to underline its own “co-sponsor” role as a player in the Middle East peace process yesterday as a Foreign Ministry spokesman hailed next week’s scheduled visit to Moscow by PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Vladimir Rakhmanin told reporters that Russia “supports the Palestinian leadership’s policy and believes that Yasser Arafat’s visit will facilitate the strengthening of the Middle East peace process and the expansion of Russian-Palestinian interaction.” Rakhmanin also observed that Russia was involved in efforts to promote a dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians last week, when newly named Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov met in New York with Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Russian agencies, October 1).
Although Moscow has improved its ties to Israel in some areas, the two countries have remained at loggerheads over Russian arms shipments to Iran. Israel has made a larger role for Russia in the Middle East peace process dependent upon an end to this Iranian-Russian military cooperation. Russian diplomats, in turn, have looked in large part to Israel’s Arab rivals as a means of reasserting some of Moscow’s former influence in the Middle East. Moscow’s talk of Arafat’s upcoming visit follows the launching of a new American initiative aimed at breaking deadlocked Arab-Israeli peace negotiations. Arafat’s visit to Moscow, scheduled for October 7-9, will come as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and special envoy Dennis Ross travel to the Middle East for talks with leaders there.
KIDNAPPINGS IN CHECHNYA MAY HAVE A POLITICAL MOTIVE.