Vladimir Radyuhin

Moscow hosts Hamas political boss for the second time in a year.

RUSSIA HAS stepped up its involvement in Middle East peace efforts hosting Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Moscow for the second time in a year. The visit consolidated Moscow's role as a bridge between Hamas and the Western powers who are not prepared to talk to the movement.

After talks with Mr. Meshaal on Tuesday, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Hamas leader had pledged to end missile attacks and violence against Israel, and recognised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the leader authorised to negotiate with Israel on behalf of Palestinians. "The progress [in Hamas policy towards Israel] is evident. This gives us grounds to begin moving towards lifting the economic sanctions against the Palestinians," Mr. Lavrov told a press conference in Moscow. He added that this should include removing sanctions on the free movement of people and goods, as well as on financial transactions.

Mr. Lavrov reiterated Russia's policy of engaging Hamas, rejecting criticism from the U.S. and Israel. "I think the meeting [with Mr. Meshaal] proved as correct and justified the approach we set forth right after Hamas won the election a year ago," he said. "It is necessary to actively work with the movement and influence their position so that it evolve towards the all-Arab position as formulated by the Arab League and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council."

The talks with Hamas came two weeks after President Vladimir Putin become the first Russian leader to visit Saudi Arabia, and voiced strong support for the Makkah power-sharing agreement between Fatah and Hamas orchestrated by Saudi King Abdullah.

Mr. Lavrov called for international support for the agreement and for lifting the blockade of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. "We are pushing for all members of the international community to support this process and make it irreversible, including efforts to lift the blockade," he said.

While Russia's contacts with Hamas have gone beyond the stand taken by the other members of the Quartet the European Union, the United Nations, and the U.S. mediating in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Moscow has been careful to reiterate its support for the Quartet's efforts.

"Our advice to Hamas... is to continue moving toward the principles of the Quartet that includes recognising Israel," Mr. Lavrov said.

For his part, Mr. Meshaal promised to heed the Russian advice. "We take this advice seriously and will make a big step forward," he told a separate press conference in Moscow. He praised Russia for keeping its door open to Hamas.

In the 12 months since Mr. Meshaal's first visit, many Middle East leaders have come to Moscow, including the Palestinian President, the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Lebanese Prime Minister, Syria's President, the secretary general of the Arab League, Jordan's King, the Egyptian President, and Israel's Prime Minister. Russia has firmly established itself as the only key player in the region that has forged links with the Sunnis, the Shias, and the Israelis, who listens to all opinion and is ready to broker honest deals that suit all sides.

Hardline Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Avigdor Lieberman paid a two-day visit to Moscow at the same time as Mr. Meshaal. The Israeli leader described Moscow's talks with Hamas as a "big mistake," but also said he was happy with his own talks in Moscow. "Without going into details, I'd like to say I'm leaving feeling more optimistic than when I came," Mr. Lieberman told reporters.