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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Plays Up Role in Middle East

Russia's leaders set aside domestic woes Thursday to host an old ally, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and to press Moscow's case to be an influential global player despite economic weakness.

President Boris Yeltsin hailed Arafat's visit as "historic" and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a Middle East expert, underlined Moscow's support for the Palestinian cause.

"Russia does not always make a show of its participation in the [Middle East] peace process but plays a positive role also in the background," Primakov told reporters after talks with Arafat.

Primakov, the former foreign minister who speaks Arabic and has ties to the Arab world, looked happy to be among old friends again, however temporarily, before he returns to the task of forging Russia's anti-crisis economic program.

When an Arab journalist congratulated him on becoming prime minister, Primakov quipped: "If you are a friend you should be commiserating with me, not congratulating me."

Arafat, who has had warm ties with Moscow since Soviet times, said he had briefed Primakov on his meetings this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

The three are due to meet Oct. 15 in Washington on for talks aimed at breaking the deadlock in the peace process.

Arafat, who looked tired and frail, said he wanted Russia to play a bigger role in bringing the two sides together.

Interfax quoted Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko as saying Yeltsin, who met Arafat earlier in the Kremlin, had agreed to appoint a permanent representative on Middle East problems.