Israeli skepticism ahead of Moscow peace conference: Syrian peace overtures have been met with distrust on the part of Israeli officials, President Shimon Peres told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting Thursday evening.
According to Peres, arms transfers from Syria to the Hizbullah organization in Lebanon continue unabated. Lavrov responded by claiming that Russia is unaware of any weapons being transferred from Syria to Hizbullah.
However, Peres noted during the meeting that Russia has a significant role in regional peace talks.
"Russia can serve as a major player in the process," the president said. Meanwhile, Lavrov stressed that Israel and Russia share joint interests, such as the war on terror.
Turning his attention to the Iranian nuclear threat, Peres said that Israel had no doubt that Iran is in advanced stages of developing nuclear weapons. The president reiterated the importance of presenting a broad global front against the Iranian threat.
Later Thursday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also met with Lavrov and told him there was no point in holding another international conference aimed at advancing the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
After Lavrov presented the idea of holding a conference in Moscow that would constitute the continuation of the Annapolis Conference, Olmert said the utility of such meeting needs to be examined first. At this time, there is no reason for another conference, he said.
'Golan's future on table'
The international peace conference to be convened in Russia this year will attempt to restart peace talks between Israel and Damascus on the future of the Golan Heights, Lavrov said earlier Thursday during his visit to Damascus.
No invitations have been sent at this time, but Russia is looking into how to combine various ideas, Lavrov said during his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad. He also made it clear that the Russia conference will constitute the direct continuation of the Annapolis conference, and noted that all Annapolis participants agreed to attend the Moscow meeting as well.
Lavrov with Syrian President Bashar Assad (Photo: AFP)
Lavrov called for a "global solution" to the Arab-Israeli conflict and said talks should be restarted with Israel on the Syrian and Lebanese peace tracks.
His visit comes as relations are strengthened between Russia and Syria after Moscow started delivery of air defense weapons to Damascus amid speculation some of them could be secretly forwarded to Israel's arch-foe Iran.
During his visit, Lavrov also discussed the political deadlock in Lebanon. The crisis in Lebanon – where Syria was the dominant political and military force for decades – is set to dominate the Arab summit in Damascus on March 29-30, although it is not clear how many Arab states will attend.
Lavrov said Arab countries should "not miss an opportunity to come together to discuss all the issues and find solutions to the problems" adding he hoped the summit would "further Arab unity."
He added it was necessary to "find a compromise as soon as possible for Lebanon. Inter-Lebanese dialogue is the key. That is in the interests of the Lebanese people, Syria and Russia."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said the summit in Damascus had displeased the United States because it would reinforce solidarity among Arab countries.
AFP contributed to the report