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08MOSCOW1375 2008-05-16 11:16:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
Cable title:  

MOSCOW MIDDLE EAST CONFERENCE IN DOUBT

Tags:   PGOV PREL IS RS 
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1. (C) Summary: Russia continues planning for a Moscow
Middle East conference, despite increasing signs that the
event may not take place. Russian officials have said that
the GOR does not want to force any party to attend a
conference and is presently waiting for a "positive sign"
from Israel to convene its hoped for Annapolis follow-up.
Russia is concerned by what it considers halfhearted messages
from Tel Aviv that suggest Israel wants only a scaled down
meeting, or even no meeting, to occur. Analysts see little
to suggest that Israel will agree to the substantive
conference Russia hopes for, with Tel Aviv unlikely to agree
to Moscow's mediation with the Palestinians or Syrians. The
GOR could, however, continue its quest for an event that
would help its image as a player in international affairs.
End summary.

Moscow Waiting for a "Positive Sign" from Israel


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2. (C) MFA First Secretary Timur Zabirov told us that the GOR
had a simple message for potential participants in a Moscow
Middle East conference: Russia does not want to play a
leading roll in the MEPP, but simply contribute to the
process by continuing the momentum begun at Annapolis. The
best way for Russia to do so is to hold a conference that
could bring into play its strong relationship with states in
the region, particularly Syria. Russia does not want to
force any party to participate in a conference and is
presently waiting for a "positive sign" from Israel before
moving forward.



3. (C) Zabirov admitted that FM Lavrov's comments during the
May 2 Quartet meeting on the prospects for a Moscow
conference were "gloomy," but reflected Israel's "lack of
clarity" as to whether it really wanted a conference convened
(reftel). Putin had agreed to postpone the conference until
August at Olmert's request, but the proposed timing suggested
that it would not be well attended. Zabirov pointed to a
recent public statement by Israeli Ambassador Azari that
Israel regarded a possible Moscow conference as "support for
a Mideast settlement rather than a forum where we could hold
negotiations with the Palestinians." This ran counter to the
GOR vision for a substantive conference that would cover the
Israel-Palestine dispute, a multilateral track that includes
Syria, and issues of regional concern such as water resources.



4. (C) Israeli Emboff Michael Brodsky confirmed that the GOR
told Israel it was waiting upon Tel Aviv to signal when a
Moscow conference would be appropriate. This message was
delivered most recently during the May 13 visit of Israeli
MFA Deputy General Director Leshno-Yaar, who came to Moscow
primarily to discuss bilateral issues and not the MEPP.
Leshno-Yaar reportedly told the Russian press that
"personally" he was "not at all sure that the conference in
Moscow will go ahead."

Analysts Doubt Conference Will Occur....


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5. (C) Analysts are increasingly doubtful about the chances
for a Moscow conference. Independent analyst Marianna
Belenkaya told us that she was uncertain whether Moscow would
host a conference, particularly after her most recent trip to
the Middle East. Belenkaya was skeptical that, despite talk
of progress, the Israelis and Palestinians would soon reach
some sort of accommodation; if they were close, they would
not want Moscow's intervention. The GOR could offer
assistance with the Syrian track, especially after Olmert and
Assad confirmed that the two sides had recently been in
contact. But even there, Belenkaya doubted Israel would seek
Russian assistance. Furthermore, she thought failure to move
forward on Israel-Syria during a Moscow conference would make
Russia appear diplomatically ineffective on the one issue it
claimed the ability to play a "special role."



6. (U) Analysts writing in the Russian press have pointed to
Egypt's plan to hold an "alternative" conference (to which
Russia was not invited) while President Bush visited the
Middle East as further evidence that a Moscow meeting would
not occur. Several have written that Russia wants to make a
real contribution to the MEPP and would not hold a Moscow
conference simply for the "sake of appearances" if it
appeared doubtful anything would be accomplished.

....But Moscow Could Go Ahead Anyway


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7. (C) However, since the Moscow conference has been viewed

MOSCOW 00001375 002 OF 002


as a measure of Russia's return to Middle East politics, the
GOR will not relinquish the initiative easily. Middle East
expert Georgiy Mirskiy of the Institute of Higher Economics
even argued that the GOR would continue to call for a Moscow
conference despite the fact that it might not have a positive
result. Mirskiy doubted the GOR could help reach a
comprehensive settlement by holding a ME conference that was
largely intended to demonstrate for a domestic audience that
Russia maintained a significant role in international
affairs. The act of convening an Annapolis-type conference
in Moscow was the real goal of the Russian leadership, who
felt confident that they could "explain away" any failure to
move the peace process forward by pointing to the
intractability of the issues facing the ME. Should there be
any progress, particularly on the Israel-Syria track, the GOR
could claim the credit.
RUSSELL