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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli President Shimon Peres attend a ceremony to unveil the brand-new "Victory Monument" in the Mediterranean city of Netanya, north of Israel on Monday. The monument commemorates fallen soldiers of the Red Army in the victory over Nazi Germany during World War II. Jack Guez / Agence France-Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Israel on Monday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders against the backdrop of sustained violence in Syria and concern on Iran's nuclear issue.
Putin arrived at midday for a first stop in the northern Israeli coastal city of Netanya, where he participated in the unveiling of a memorial honoring the role of the Red Army in World War II.
Later on Monday, he was scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres that officials have said would focus on Iran's nuclear program.
On Tuesday, Putin will head to the West Bank and meet Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, and then travel to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.
On the eve of the trip, Putin's top foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said it would highlight "the importance of this region for us and is designed to further strengthen Russia's position here".
"Of course, the Syrian topic and the situation around Iran will be discussed in detail," he said.
Moscow and the West have been at loggerheads over the Syrian conflict, with the Kremlin refusing to support sanctions against Damascus and resisting outside intervention.
Also high on Putin's agenda will be the issue of Iran's nuclear program, which is a key concern for the Jewish state.
Israel wants Russia to pressure Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment program, which Israel and the United States believe is designed to produce bombs. Iran says the program is for civilian purposes only.
Israel has said the program poses an existential threat and warned it reserves the right to use all means necessary to respond, including military force.
The international community has been pursuing talks with Teheran in recent months, but three high-level meetings including the most recent held in Moscow, have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
The P5+1 group (China, Britain, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany) has agreed to another round of discussions in Istanbul on July 3, but Israel has warned that lengthy talks give Iran time to continue uranium enrichment.
Putin is also expected to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process in his talks with Netanyahu and Abbas. The process has been in a deep freeze, with direct negotiations on hold since late September 2010.
"He needs to be seen in the Middle East. If he declined to visit, it would mean Russia has given up in the Middle East and has been pushed out," said Georgy Mirsky, a Middle East expert at the Institute of the World Economy and International Relations in Moscow.
Putin last traveled to Israel in 2005. His predecessor at the Kremlin, Dmitry Medvedev, visited the West Bank and Jordan last year.
(China Daily 06/26/2012 page11)