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Experts Say Russia Will Experience Problems Trying to Regain Mideast Peace Role

MOSCOW. Jan 30 (Interfax) - Political scientists in Russia think Moscow will experience serious problems while trying to regain its full- fledged role in the Middle East settlement.

Konstantin Simonov, general director of the Political Studies Center, said intensification of Russia's Middle East policy may cause Russia and the United States' interests to collide.

"In my opinion, this visit and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad's recent visit to Moscow are linked in a way. Moscow is 'appraising' the Arab leaders who, in turn, are studying Russian proposals right at the scene," Simonov told Interfax ahead of new Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's visit to Moscow, to begin on Sunday.

"By assisting Arab regimes, Moscow is demonstrating to the West that it is determined to regain its positions in the Middle East," said Simonov.

"However, the U.S. is not at all interested in Russia's strengthening positions in this region. The U.S. views the Middle East as nearly the most important region in its foreign policy. This can be judged from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's decision to pay her first visit in her new capacity precisely to that region," he said.

"A certain risk exists that rifts will grow between Moscow and Washington, and the U.S. will start putting spokes in Russia's wheels in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world," Simonov said.

"This can also be seen from a scandal over rumors that Russia is supposedly planning to export Iskander-E tactical missiles to Syria. Reaction was the sharpest in the U.S., not in Israel, and the U.S. State Department hastened to make an official statement on this score," he said.

President of the Institute of Israel and Middle East Studies Yevgeny Satanovsky said "it is quite feasible to bring all Palestinian groupings together at one negotiating table, but there is little hope for a consensus between them, given strong external pressure."

"There are many other forces, besides the U.S., that are active in this region: Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other Islamic countries," Satanovsky told Interfax.

"In this situation, Russia's place is in the periphery, in the interests of Palestine, and we cannot hope that our proposals will be seriously accepted for the sake of Palestine's future. The fact that Moscow's proposals were mostly playing into the hands of Palestine, not Israel, is not giving political points to Russia, since this has strongly undermined its reputation of a mediator in the settlement process," said Satanovsky.