AP: Moscow’s offer to meet with Hamas and its efforts to mediate in Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West are expected to dominate talks this week between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and senior European Union officials.
By PAUL AMES
Associated Press Writer
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) – Moscow’s offer to meet with Hamas and its efforts to mediate in Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West are expected to dominate talks this week between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and senior European Union officials.
Lavrov is scheduled to meet Wednesday in Vienna, Austria, with European External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, and the foreign ministers of Austria and Finland – which share the EU’s rotating presidency this year.
EU foreign policy representative Javier Solana pulled out of the talks to continue a tour of the Middle East in an effort to calm Muslim anger over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that have appeared in European newspapers.
The EU and the United States are backing a Russian proposal to shift Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities to Russia, which could help ensure the nuclear fuel would not be used to make bombs. However, Iranian presidential spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said Monday that talks planned for this week in Moscow had been postponed indefinitely.
Lavrov is also expected to discuss Russia’s offer to meet this month with Hamas leaders in Moscow following the Islamic militant group’s victory in Palestinian elections.
The other members of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations, have insisted they would not deal with Hamas unless it renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
Austrian officials said the talks would also look at European concerns over energy supplies.
Last month, Russia’s natural gas monopoly Gazprom worried European governments by halting supplies to Ukraine over a gas dispute that led to sharp drops in supplies in several countries. Most of the Russian gas that goes to European consumers moves through Ukraine’s pipeline network.
Some EU nations complain that the flow of gas is still not fully re-established. Russian officials have suggested that some of the gas destined for Western Europe is being syphoned off in Ukraine.
Lavrov is also expected to raise concerns about Russian-speaking minorities in the EU’s new Baltic members and about Russia’s access through EU territory to its Kaliningrad enclave.
A leading human rights group appealed Monday to the EU to take up the question of human rights in Russia and other former Soviet republics where Moscow has influence.
“An assault against human rights activity in Russia, Belarus and Uzbekistan is more damaging than any since the fall of Communist regimes, and demands condemnation by top international leaders,” said Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.
The organization is particularly concerned about a Russian law to regulate non-governmental organizations which is due to come into force in April.