Putin to Meet Israeli Premier

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Kremlin on Sept. 4, the president's press service said Thursday. 

The two will discuss the conflict in the Middle East and bilateral relations, it said.

There have been suggestions in the Israeli media that Sharon could postpone his Russian visit, set for Sept. 3-6, due to the violence in Israel and the Palestinian areas. But Sharon, speaking Wednesday to Russian journalists in Israel ahead of the visit, said the trip was much too important.

"It is very important to strengthen Israel's relations with Russia," the premier said. "Israel is showing great interest in broadening diversified relations with Russia."

In comments cited by the Interfax news agency, Sharon praised Putin for maintaining a democratic climate in which "Jews can live their community life and freely emigrate."

Sharon said his key theme would be the "urgent need to combat Arab and Muslim terrorism, the main threat to stability in the Middle East."

"Besides that, we shall discuss future threats that will become much more perilous in three to five years, if weapons of mass destruction spread and get into the hands of Iran and Iraq," he said.

Russia is a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, but has largely left the stage to the United States in recent years.

Sharon also said he "categorically opposes the presence of any international forces or observers in the Middle East."

"Such a presence will not facilitate the attainment of peace. On the contrary, it will only hamper this process," he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Sharon's visit follows that of Jordanian King Abdullah II this week. Jordan has urged Putin to adopt a more active role in Middle East peacemaking and come up with fresh ideas to stop the bloodshed.

Moscow, responding to the recent wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence, has called on both sides to show restraint and adhere to cease-fire agreements worked out earlier with U.S. and international mediation.