Portugal Colonial - Israel PM meets Putin in Moscow for Ukraine talks

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Israel PM meets Putin in Moscow for Ukraine talks
Israel PM meets Putin in Moscow for Ukraine talks

Israel PM meets Putin in Moscow for Ukraine talks

Israel's premier stepped into the role of mediator Saturday as Russia's invasion of Ukraine intensified, holding a three-hour meeting at the Kremlin with Vladimir Putin before calling Ukraine's president and flying to Berlin.

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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's sit-down with Putin was the first by foreign leader since the day Russian forces invaded Ukraine last week, and came after Kyiv had asked Israel to launch a dialogue with Moscow.

Bennett has so far walked a very cautious line on the Ukraine crisis, seeking to preserve delicate security cooperation with Russia, which has a large military presence in Israel's northern neighbour, Syria.

Bennett has not joined Western leaders -- notably key ally the United States -- in forcefully condemning the invasion, instead stressing Israel's strong relations with both Russia and Ukraine.

Ahead of his Moscow trip, Bennett had spoken by telephone repeatedly with both Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Bennett's office said he left Israel for Moscow early Saturday, itself an extraordinary move for a religious Jew who does not conduct state business on the Jewish Shabbath, except in extraordinary circumstances.

Bennett and Putin met for three hours, in a visit that was coordinated with the US, Germany and France, an Israeli official said.

Bennett's delegation included his housing minister, fluent Russian speaker Zeev Elkin, who was born in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union.

The Kremlin said "different aspects of the situation in Ukraine" were discussed during "the short working visit".

After the Putin meeting, Bennett called Zelensky -- who is Jewish, has family in Israel and has visited the country many times.

Bennett then headed to Germany for talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz scheduled for late Saturday.

A statement from the French presidency said Emmanuel Macron also spoke to Bennett before he left for Moscow on Saturday, as part of joint efforts to "obtain a ceasefire in Ukraine".

- Iran -

While the Bennett-Putin talks were primarily focused on the fighting in Ukraine, the meeting also "touched upon the progress of the (Iran) nuclear talks in Vienna," the Israeli official said.

Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier Saturday after talks in Tehran that they agreed on an approach to resolve issues crucial in efforts to revive the country's 2015 nuclear deal.

Bennett is a staunch opponent of global efforts to revive the agreement which gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

The premier has argued that Tehran will use the revenue boost from the lifting of sanctions to buy weapons that can harm Israel, while still pursuing a nuclear weapons capability, an ambition Iran denies.

Russia, which has itself been slapped with Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, said Saturday that it would seek guarantees from Washington before backing any revived agreement, complicating efforts for a rapid deal.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had requested that the US give it written guarantees that Ukraine-related sanctions "will not in any way harm our rights to free, fully-fledged trade and economic and investment cooperation, military-technical cooperation with Iran".

There was no immediate comment on any link between the new Russian position and Bennett's visit.

The meeting with Bennett was the first the Russian leader had scheduled since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

Putin received Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan at the Kremlin on the day the invasion began, in a visit that was long scheduled but widely considered ill-timed.

On Monday, Khan defended the trip -- the first by a Pakistani leader to Russia in more than two decades -- saying it would prove beneficial in the future.

L.Carrico--PC