Russia's Putin to visit Egypt and Israel next week

Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel next week to Egypt and to Israel, where he will be the first Russian or Soviet leader to visit the Jewish state, the Kremlin said Tuesday.

Putin will arrive in Egypt on April 26, and travel on to Israel on April 27 for a two-day visit that will be followed by talks with Palestinian leaders on April 29, a statement said.

The Russian leader is expected to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Moshe Katsav and other senior Israeli officials for talks on advancing Middle East peace negotiations, Israeli officials said last month.

The Kremlin said that Putin was visiting the Palestinian territories at the invitation of new Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Russia is a member of the so-called Quartet of international mediators for the Middle East peacemaking, along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union. The Quartet sponsored the 2003 "road map" peace plan, a three-stage program for creating a Palestinian state. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians carried out the initial requirements, and the plan has stalled.

Israeli-Russian relations have improved greatly in the past 15 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, which was a staunch supporter of Israel's Arab enemies.

Associated Press

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