The issue of alleged Russian aid for an Iranian missile development program was back in the headlines over the weekend as Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov launched a week-long visit to the Middle East. According to Israeli sources, Primakov was told during talks yesterday with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Israel would oppose a greater role for Moscow in the Middle East peace process so long as Russia continues to aid Iran. Netanyahu reportedly presented to Primakov evidence gathered by Israeli intelligence demonstrating that Russian missile technology has been transferred to Iran. Prior to yesterday’s talks, an Israeli diplomat was quoted as saying that Israeli leaders "expect Primakov to divert discussion to the issue of restarting peace talks with Syria and Lebanon." But Russia’s military technical cooperation with Iran remains of paramount importance to Israel, he said, and is viewed in Jerusalem as "contravening [Russia’s] position as a co-sponsor of the peace process."
Primakov, for his part, said that "Russia will continue economic and political ties with Iran," but he reiterated Moscow’s assurances that Russia is in no way helping Iran to acquire ballistic missile technology. The Russian foreign minister is scheduled today to travel to the West Bank town of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian president Yasser Arafat.
Primakov arrived in the region on October 24, and his visit to Israel was preceded by talks in Beirut and Damascus. He emphasized during those talks Russia’s support for the position, backed by the Arab states, that the Middle East peace process can be reanimated only by a return to the "land for peace" principle laid down at the 1991 Madrid Conference. Moscow was a cosponsor of the 1991 conference, but its influence in the region has eroded since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Primakov’s current trip, coming against a background of renewed tension and deadlocked peace talks, is aimed a reclaiming some of that influence. Following talks with Syrian president Hafez Assad in Damascus on October 25, Primakov called for a greater Syrian role in the peace process. He also joined with Syrian leaders in criticizing Turkey for what they said was a plan to establish a Turkish security zone in northern Iraq. (Itar-Tass, UPI, October 24-26; AP, October 26)
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