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Putin speaks to Bush, Olmert as Hamas visits Russia

Written by: Staff
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MOSCOW, Mar 5 (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke to President George W Bush and Israel's interim prime minister today about the West Asia peace process as leaders of the militant group Hamas continued their Moscow visit.

Putin made calls to Bush and Israel's interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Kremlin said. Olmert told Putin that it had been a mistake for Russia to invite Hamas for talks, a statement from the Israeli prime minister's office said.

''The heads of state discussed the resolution of the situation in the Middle East in the light of talks in Moscow with a delegation of leaders of the Palestinian movement Hamas,'' the Kremlin said in a statement about Putin's talk with Bush.

Hamas has rejected Russian appeals for it to recognise Israel and to disband its armed wing, senior Hamas leaders said yesterday. The visit to Moscow is the first trip to a major foreign power by Hamas leaders.

Hamas, trying to form the next Palestinian government after its victory in January's Palestinian election, is hoping to gain a measure of international standing from the talks.

Olmert's office said in a statement that he spoke with Putin for about 40 minutes.

''President Putin stressed several times during the conversation that Russian would not take any step directed against Israeli interests nor harm Israel's security,'' the statement from Olmert's office said, adding Putin had also stressed the importance of negotiations with Hamas.

''(Olmert) said that Israel's position on this matter is fundamentally different from Russia's and that Israel would not negotiate with a terrorist organisation such as Hamas,'' the statement said.

''(Olmert) noted that Russia's contacts with Hamas only encouraged Hamas not to make changes the international community has demanded before it can become a negotiating partner.'' Hamas leaders were shown on Russian state television making a tour of the Kremlin in driving snow, though there was no word of any meeting with Putin, who invited Hamas leaders to Moscow early last month.

REUTERS CH KP2025

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