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Russia Urges U.S. To Take Active Role In Mideast Peace Process

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ANKARA, Turkey — Russian President Dmitry Medvedev urged the United States on Wednesday to actively work to achieve peace in the Mideast with the support of other nations, saying there is a "human tragedy" in Gaza.

His comment appeared to indicate Moscow's willingness to become an active Middle East mediator. On Tuesday, during a visit to Syria, Medvedev said Israeli-Arab tensions threaten to draw the Middle East into a new catastrophe, adding Moscow's weight to a diplomatic push to ease antagonism between Israel and Syria.

"The United States must be active and other nations must contribute," Medvedev said in Ankara.

Washington recently launched U.S.-mediated peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but signs of trouble already have emerged. On Monday, Israel said it doesn't intend to halt construction of Jewish housing in east Jerusalem. The Palestinians accused Israel of undermining trust and urged President Barack Obama to intervene.

Obama supports establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Medvedev said no one should be excluded from the Mideast peace process, a clear reference to Khaled Mashaal, the exiled leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is shunned as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union nations.

Medvedev met Mashaal in Damascus on Tuesday. Hamas rules in the Gaza Strip, one of the territories that would one day be part of a Palestinian state.

In Israel, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor slammed Medvedev's comments and his meeting with Mashaal.

"The foreign ministry completely rejects the calls by the Russian and Turkish presidents to include Hamas in the political process, and expresses a deep disappointment from the meeting of the Russian President with Khaled Mashaal in Damascus," Palmor said in a statement.

"Israel has always stood at Russia's side against the (Chechen) terror. We would expect similar treatment when it is Hamas terror against Israel," he said.

Earlier, Medvedev also said Iran must "adopt a constructive approach in some way," as the U.S. and its allies rally for new U.N. sanctions against Tehran regarding its nuclear program. Iran has denied charges that it is secretly building nuclear weapons.

"The Mideast must be a region cleared from nuclear weapons," Medvedev said. "The use of nuclear weapons in the region would be a disaster."

Turkey and Russia on Wednesday signed 17 cooperation agreements, including the construction of Turkey's first nuclear power plant near the Mediterranean coastal town of Akkuyu. The construction was expected to take seven years, said Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Medvedev said they also agreed to work on a pipeline project that would pump Russian oil from Turkey's Black Sea coast to the Mediterranean. It will run from the Black Sea port of Samsun to the Ceyhan oil terminal on the Mediterranean where an oil refinery will be set up.

The significance of the project is to bypass the Bosporus to alleviate the congested oil tanker traffic through the narrow waterway that bisects Istanbul where accidents are feared as well as the Dardanelles Strait, further south. The Turkish straits are the sole naval outlet from the Black Sea.


Associated Press Writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.

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