Russia's foreign minister said the new US administration's approach to Iran has increased chances of resolving the standoff over its nuclear program, but gave no indication of whether Moscow would increase pressure on Tehran.
Sergey Lavrov, speaking after a meeting with Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman, also ceded no ground publicly over Russia's engagement with the violent group Hamas, which has angered Israel.
It was Lieberman's first visit to Moscow as Israel's foreign minister, and he and Lavrov focused their comments to reporters on Russian-Israeli relations vastly improved since the Soviet era, when Moscow strongly supported Israel's Arab foes.
Lieberman said the countries' ties "are probably at their highest point" since diplomatic relations were established diplomatic 18 years ago.
Israel wants Russia, however, to use its close relationship with Iran to pressure Tehran to stop nuclear activities it believes are aimed at developing weapons. Lavrov said he told Lieberman about steps Russia is taking along with other UN Security Council members and Germany, but he said nothing about any efforts by Moscow itself. He said Russia and the other nations "expect a constructive answer" from Tehran on proposals aimed toward reviving negotiations.
"We really have a very good chance now, in part due to the position of the new US administration," Lavrov said. Lieberman was also meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev, and was expected to fly to St. Petersburg to meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Born and raised in the Soviet Union, Lieberman speaks Russian smoothly and seemed at ease in Moscow. But it was unclear if his background would help him sway Russia on points such as Iran and Hamas - issues that continue to cloud relations.
'Cooperate in the most serious way'
Unlike its partners in the Quartet leading Mideast peace efforts - the United Nations, European Union and United States - Russia has engaged Hamas and said isolating the group is counterproductive.
Lieberman expressed "deep disappointment" last week over Lavrov's recent meeting in Syria with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
On Tuesday, Lavrov said Hamas must help create the conditions for removal of the blockade of Gaza. "We are sending the corresponding signals to Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas in terms of the necessity to cooperate in the most serious way," Lavrov said.
Russia has also sought to maintain close relations with the Palestinians.
Lavrov also told reporters that the Quartet for Middle East Peace could meet in June, stressing that Russia and Israel support "energy" efforts to resume the talks.
The Quartet "plans to meet this month in the ministerial level, "said Lavrov after a meeting Lieberman.
The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have not resumed since the victory of the right of the Israeli elections in February.
The head of Russian diplomacy also reported also in progress the project to organize a conference on the Middle East this year Moscow.
Lavrov also told his Israeli counterpart that Russia would sell weapons to Middle East countries only if they are not likely threaten stability in the region.
The Interfax news agency cited an unnamed Russian military official as saying Tuesday that Moscow would deliver 50 armored personnel carriers to the Palestinian Authority from July to September.
Israel initially had balked at the planned deliveries, but has since given its approval.
Russia says the vehicles would be used to help the Palestinians keep order.