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Middle east

Netanyahu meets Putin for Syria talks in Sochi

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-14

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Russian resort of Sochi Tuesday for talks on the Syrian crisis, amid frantic diplomatic efforts to get Russia on board ahead of a landmark Syria conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday joined the list of world leaders visiting the southern Russian resort of Sochi in recent days to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a bid to hammer out an international plan to tackle the Syrian conflict.

Netanyahu held talks with Putin at the Black Sea resort just days after US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Prime Minister David Cameron met the Russian leader amid frantic diplomatic efforts to hold an international conference on Syria, which has claimed an estimated 70,000 lives.

“All those who go to Sochi and Moscow to carry out these negotiations seem to sense that even if there’s a marginal change, there’s some shift in the Russian position that will allow some kind of dialogue,” said FRANCE 24’s international affairs editor Melissa Bell.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is also scheduled to travel to Russia later this week as the Syrian crisis reaches a critical juncture, threatening to draw in neighbouring Turkey and Lebanon, where Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has warned that the Syrian regime would provide the Shiite group with “game-changing weapons”.

Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin came a day after US President Barack Obama met British Prime Minister David Cameron in Washington, where the two leaders sought to build momentum behind “Geneva2” as the upcoming conference in the Swiss city is known in diplomatic circles.

“There was cautious optimism at the White House that the international conference on Syria could have some results,” said FRANCE 24’s Philip Crowther, reporting from Washington shortly after Monday’s meeting between Obama and Cameron. “Calling it a ‘peace conference’ might be a bit optimistic at this point. But the aim of the conference is to get both the Syrian opposition and Bashar Assad’s regime at the same negotiating table.”

Announcing the conference last week after his visit to Russia, Kerry initially said the meeting would take place by the end of the month. But on Monday, a State Department spokeswoman said the conference was more likely to be held in June.

‘Game-Changing’ S-300 missile batteries

Netanyahu’s lightning visit to Russia on Tuesday came amid growing Israeli concerns over Russia’s insistence on delivering advanced air-defense missiles to Syria.
Despite Western diplomatic pressure on Moscow not to complete the deal, Russian officials have refused to scupper the agreement.

"Russia is not planning to sell,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week. “Russia already sold [the weapons] a long time ago. It has signed the contracts and is completing deliveries, in line with the agreed contracts, of equipment that is anti-aircraft technology."

Lavrov however declined to elaborate on whether he was referring to S-300 missile batteries, one of Russia's most sophisticated defense systems capable of striking manned aircraft and guided missiles.

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli intelligence had provided the US with intelligence that Syria had already begun making payments on a 2010 contract with Russia to purchase four S-300 batteries, with 144 missiles, for $900 million. The first deliveries were expected to be made over the summer of 2013 through the Syrian port at Tartus.

“For Israel, these systems would change the balance of power between Israel and Damascus,” said Bell. “Those weapons could then be passed on to Hezbollah and that’s what Israel is worried about.”

West divided over military aid to Syrian opposition

Moscow’s insistence on delivering on the anti-aircraft technology comes amid an internal White House debate that was leaning sharply toward providing weapons to the rebels, according to the Washington Post.

But according to Crowther, the US is not sending “lethal aid” to the Syrian rebels for the moment. “The UK is going a bit further though with Britain already committing itself to providing the opposition with armoured vehicles and body armor. That is not yet the case with the US.”

A European Union arms embargo on all parties in Syria is set to expire May 30 and is up for renewal, with France and Britain seeking to lift the embargo or at the very least, have more “flexibility” in EU restrictions.

But there is little sign of unanimity within the 27-member bloc, with Austria having warned its European partners on Monday that arms shipments to Syrian rebels would be "a violation of international law, the basic laws of the European Union," according to Austrian media reports.

Date created : 2013-05-14

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