With Hamas Visit, Russia Seeks More Global Clout
SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
In Moscow, talks between Russians officials and the militant Palestinian group Hamas appear to be at a standstill. After sweeping to victory in Palestinian elections in January, Hamas is still trying to form a government. But the group remains isolated from Israel and the international community and faces a growing financial crisis.
Today Hamas leaders reportedly refused again to recognize the state of Israel, dimming any hopes that Russia might be able to help to mediate the situation. NPR's Gregory Feifer is in Moscow. He's on the line with us. Thanks for being with us, Gregory.
GREGORY FEIFER reporting:
My pleasure, Susan.
STAMBERG: Hamas seems so steadfast in refusing to recognize Israel. What were their main reasons then for coming to Moscow, if they weren't going to negotiate or compromise?
FEIFER: The invitation is a big lift for Hamas. It's its first visit to a world power. Russia actually surprise Western countries last month by inviting the group the Moscow. The West considers Hamas a terrorist organization and there's a lot of serious criticism that Moscow is giving the group legitimacy by inviting it to Moscow. One Israeli minister even said that the invitation was a stab in the back to Israel.
STAMBERG: But why did Moscow extend the invitation?
FEIFER: Well, by making overtures to countries and groups that the West is trying to isolate, Russia wants to expand its role on the international stage. It's really posing as mediator here. It says it's a balance to the White House in what it says are increasingly unstable times. Critics of Russia say that Moscow just doesn't agree with the West over foreign policy and it's acting as a spoiler, much the way we often criticize France as doing.
STAMBERG: Yeah. Russia has recently hosted Iran in talks about Iranian nuclear programs. So is the Russia president hoping that he can once again re-establish the influence of his country as a major player in the Middle East?
FEIFER: Well, that's absolutely right. One of President Putin's main promises to the Russian people has been essentially to restore Russia's great power status, and I think this week's series of talks are very much a part of that. The Soviet Union had a lot of influence in the Middle East during the Cold War. It was an important backer of Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization and Syria and other countries seen as antagonistic to Washington. And I think today's meetings can definitely been seen as an attempt to revive what Russia sees as its historical role in the region.
STAMBERG: Mm hmm. How much longer will these talks continue there in Moscow?
FEIFER: There are three days of talks. They began yesterday and they'll continue into tomorrow. Today the Hamas delegation is meeting a series of different groups, including Russian's main Mufti and doing a bit of a tourist tour.
STAMBERG: Mm hmm. Well, good. Thank you very much, NPR's Gregory Feifer in Moscow. Thank you.
FEIFER: My pleasure.
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