Pomp but no shift on Iran as Putin visits Israel


The 24-hour visit to Israel by the Russian President was heavy on ceremony but lean on progress on the key issues of Iran and Syria.

Vladimir Putin’s whirlwind trip through the Middle East began in Netanya where, after arriving 90 minutes late, he joined Israeli President Shimon Peres to dedicate a memorial commemorating the Allied victory in the Second World War.

The delay did not detract from the grandeur of Mr Putin’s visit, who chose to begin his regional tour in Israel and was accompanied by a 350-strong entourage, including politicians, oligarchs and rabbis.

President Peres met Mr Putin for a second time at a dinner at his residence in Jerusalem. On both occasions, the Israeli head of state brought up in his speeches the deepening civil war in Syria and the threat of Iran’s nuclear bomb. “None of us can stand the sight of coffins and in them children,” he said to the man propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad, “it is beyond politics.” Regarding Iran, Mr Peres said, “I know that Russia is against Iran developing weapons of mass destruction. It’s important for this effort not to weaken.”

Mr Putin, who has publicly backed Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, did not mention Iran directly in his address but said: “We have to think of the results of actions before you begin them. Look at what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

According to diplomatic sources, the talks on the twin issues with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were “frank and open” and there was “a feeling that Putin and Netanyahu share a common language”.

The talks, which included Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Yaakov Amidror, focused on Israel’s requests from Russia to ensure that Syria’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons did not fall into the hands of terror organisations and to support the international sanctions on Iran. The Russians did not commit on either issue.

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