Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Bethlehem Tuesday, for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Putin's tour followed a Monday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who urged Russia to step up pressure on Iran to curb its suspect nuclear program.
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The Russian and Palestinian presidents discussed various regional issues and primarily the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Putin praised Abbas for what he said was the PA's "responsible" position in its negotiations with Israel, and said Russia has no problem recognizing a Palestinian state. "We did so 25 years ago and our position has not changed," he said.
Putin also offered veiled criticism of Israel, saying unilateral action "is not constructive."
Putin and Abbas (Photo: AP)
While in Bethlehem, Putin inaugurated a Russian cultural and language center in the city.
Abbas surprised him by announcing that the city intends to name one of Bethlehem's streets after him. He was also awarded the Palestinian Authority's medal of honor.
In a joint press conference, Abbas underscored the need for an international peace conference in Moscow, adding that Ramallah has asked Moscow to assist in the release of 124 Palestinian prisoners who were incarcerated in Israel prior to the Oslo Accords.
Putin stressed the need for the Palestinian factions to mend fences: "In light of the events in the Middle East, we see great importance in resolving old conflicts. We call on all sides to resume negotiations – it is the only solution to the problem."
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