MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Tuesday that Moscow backed a Saudi peace initiative for the Middle East during talks with a group of Israeli and Palestinian moderates.
"Russia supports the Saudi Arabian initiative, which has received support by both Palestinians and Israelis," Ivanov said following talks with the Israeli-Palestinian Coalition for Peace, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah floated the peace plan earlier this month in an interview with The New York Times. He said he had considered offering Israel peace with the entire Arab world if it withdrew from all territory occupied in the 1967 Mideast war, including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which are claimed by the Palestinians.
Ivanov said Russia was currently focusing on joint actions with the United States, the European Union and the United Nations to achieve peace in the Middle East, but he left open the possibility that Moscow could also launch independent initiatives in the future.
"If during contacts and consultations with the Palestinian and Israeli sides a need emerges for an independent Russian initiative, that will be done," Ivanov said. "If the development of the Middle East situation requires that, Russia is ready to take independent steps."
Ivanov didn't say what new initiatives Russia might offer.
Russia officially is a co-sponsor of the Mideast peace process launched in 1991, but it has taken a back seat to the United States. Moscow has developed friendly ties with Israel following decades of animosity, but has largely lost its Soviet-era leverage with the Palestinians and other Arab nations.
Moscow has joined Washington in promoting the plan put forward by CIA chief George Tenet and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell: a truce accompanied by a series of confidence-building steps, including an Israeli settlement freeze and the outlawing of militant groups by the Palestinians.
The Israeli-Palestinian Coalition for Peace, led by Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin, gathered last month to announce a joint initiative to restart peace talks after 16 months of fighting. But the violence has continued.
The Russian Foreign Ministry welcomed the coalition's trip to Moscow, saying its "commitment to such constructive joint work is especially important now, when an escalation of tensions is continuing in the region."