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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Assures Russia Of Role in Peace Talks

JERUSALEM -- Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said he received assurances from Israel on Thursday that it recognized Moscow's importance as a player in the Middle East peace process.

Primakov met with Foreign Minister David Levy at the start of a one-day visit to Israel, the third leg on a Middle East tour designed to raise Russia's profile in a peace process now dominated by U.S. mediation. Primakov earlier visited Syria and Egypt.

"I come out of my talks with you, David Levy, with the very good impression that contrary to what has happened in the past, you accord to Russia the importance it is due as a sponsor to the peace process," Primakov said at a joint press conference.

"I also noted in our conversation Israel's commitment to respect the [peace] agreements signed in the past," he said.

Primakov underlined that Russia's bid for a greater hand in the peace process does not mean Moscow is "trying to take the place of the United States."

"But it is better that many be involved in the peace process and not just one intermediary," he said.

Levy said the Russian diplomat had brought "very important information" from his visit to Egypt and Syria, but he did not elaborate.

Israel army radio said Primakov had notably handed Levy a "reassuring message" from the Syrian leadership following a period of high tensions between the two states related to Syrian troops movements near their border.

But Levy would only say the two men had discussed the Syrian question "and are in agreement not to discuss it further in public."

During their press conference, Levy repeatedly stressed Russia's role as a co-sponsor of the 1991 Madrid conference, which kicked off the Israeli-Arab peace process, and its importance in the region.

The tone of his remarks differed notably from Israel's response to demands from the European Union for a greater role in Israeli-Arab negotiations.

But Levy made no specific reference to earlier statements by Primakov calling for a more direct Russian role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations which have bogged down under U.S. mediation.

During their meeting, Primakov and Levy signed agreements on cultural cooperation, including the opening of cultural centers in each other's country, and on the return of former Soviet property in Jerusalem to Russia. Primakov was due to hold talks later Thursday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Ezer Weizman.

He was also to meet with Trade and Industry Minister Nathan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident who now heads the Israel B'Aliya party of Russian immigrants.

On Friday, Primakov heads to Gaza City for talks with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and then leaves for Jordan and Lebanon.