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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 14:16 GMT 15:16 UK
Putin proposes Middle East summit
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo
Mr Putin hopes to boost Russia's influence in the Middle East
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he wants to hold an international conference on the Middle East peace process in Moscow later this year.

He proposed the summit for all the sides involved after talks with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.

Mr Putin is about to become the first Russian leader to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.

A BBC correspondent says Mr Putin wants to revive Russia's influence in the Middle East.

Russia is one of the four sponsors of the peace "roadmap" that aims to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The peace plan is intended to lead to a stable and independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Israel 'wary'

Mr Putin said the other three members of the Middle East "quartet" - the United States, the United Nations and the European Union - as well as "all the states concerned" would be invited to attend the conference in the autumn.

"I hope to discuss with other colleagues concerned about moving forward the peace process in the Middle East," he said at a joint news conference with President Mubarak.

Mr Putin also said that the quartet would meet in Moscow on 8 May to finalise the agenda of the summit in the Russian capital.

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His announcement received mixed reaction from Israel and the Palestinians.

One senior Israeli official was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying: "We are very wary but not against it in principle."

While Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Nabil Shaath told Reuters: "We support the proposal totally."

Mr Putin is expected to discuss the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, after travelling to Israel and the Palestinian territories later on Wednesday.

As well as becoming the first Russian head of state to visit that part of the region, Mr Putin is also the first to set foot in Egypt in 40 years.

Iraq discussions

Although Russia is one of the four sponsors of the road map, Moscow has not wielded significant power in the Middle East since the height of the Cold War, the BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Moscow says.

With this Middle East tour it seems President Putin is hoping to revive some of Russia's lost prestige, our correspondent says.

He adds that, in Israel, President Putin is likely to face some tough questioning about Russia's support for regimes in Syria and Iran.

President Putin was received by Mr Mubarak at his Abdeen palace in central Cairo on Tuesday, where the two leaders began talks, followed by an official dinner.

During their meetings, they two men also discussed Iraq.

"The United Nations should play a role in helping Iraq and in particular in rebuilding its constitutional and legislative institutions," said Mr Mubarak at the press conference.

Mr Putin's two-day stop in Cairo was also aimed at bolstering Russia's political and economic relations with Egypt.

Egypt and Russia enjoyed close ties until the 1970s when Egypt turned to the US which has since become its most strategic foreign partner, analysts say.

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