Russia Plans Middle East Summit

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s president, has said that Moscow aims to hold a peace conference before the end of 2009 to help resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

After holding talks in Cairo with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, Medvedev said a two-state solution, the issue of settlements and a future capital would be on the agenda at the meeting.

Medvedev said: "We paid special attention to Middle East issues. We highly appreciate efforts by the Egyptian president to create an atmosphere of trust and co-operation in the region.

"[The] Moscow Middle East conference, which we plan to hold before the end of the year, will also contribute to achieving this goal."

Hamas Links

Russia, which has mooted holding such a Middle East conference in the past, is a member of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators, along with the European Union, the United States and the United Nations.

Moscow is the only Quartet member talking to Hamas, the group that controls Gaza but is snubbed by Israel and the West, and also has good contacts with Israel.

Mubarak said: "I affirmed Egypt’s support for holding the proposed international conference in Moscow to push peace efforts, and our support for everything that contributes towards achieving a just and comprehensive peace in the region."

Egypt, like other Arab states, has called for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict based on two states and has dismissed Benjamin Netanyahu’s, the Israeli prime minister, conditional proposal for a demilitarized Palestinian state.

"What is the basis for a solution to this problem? Those are international legal norms and certain principles including the principle of two states, discussions on [Israeli] settlements and the future capital," Medvedev said.

"These are difficult questions but Russia is ready to help solve them."

Grain Agreement

Egypt is the first stop on Medvedev’s four-day Africa trip that also takes him to Nigeria, Namibia and Angola.

Cairo is Russia’s leading trading partner in the Arab world, with an annual turnover of $4.1bn in 2008.

Egypt is the biggest consumer of Russian wheat exports, with more than four million tonnes estimated this season, and the issue topped the agenda in Tuesday’s talks on trade between the two coutries.

Russia could set up long-term contracts to sell grain to Egypt once a quality control issue is resolved, a Russian official said.

Wheat shipments from Russia have been under scrutiny in Egypt since mid-May, when a prosecutor ordered a probe after dead bugs and impurities were found in Russian wheat imported by a private Egyptian firm.

The cargo was ordered to be sent back.

Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Egypt’s trade minister, recently announced that Russia had suggested having a long-term agreement to export wheat to Egypt based on Egyptian specifications.

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