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October 03, 2002

Senior Palestinian leader arrives in Moscow after Sharon visit

MOSCOW (AP) -- A top Palestinian leader arrived in Moscow on Wednesday, a day after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wrapped up a visit to the Russian capital.

Mahmoud Abbas, the deputy head of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a leading peace negotiator, said he had come to exchange opinions on the settlement of the conflict in the Middle East, according to the Interfax news agency.

Abbas was to meet with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and other ministry officials.

A Russian news report quoted Abbas as denying he had held secret talks with the Israeli leadership in the Gulf state of Qatar. However, he said Palestinians would welcome such talks, according to the Interfax news agency.

An Israeli government official said on condition of anonymity Wednesday that Sharon adviser Ephraim Halevy had met with a senior Palestinian leader in Qatar. Abbas was in Qatar a few days ago and one Israeli newspaper said he was the official who met with Halevy.

Sharon met with Russian officials Monday and Tuesday. An aide said he presented his view of a phased approach to ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, calling for Palestinians first to stop attacks on Israelis then reform their political system before negotiating for a final settlement.

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that U.S. legislation encouraging recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital could complicate peace efforts.

"We call on all sides to refrain from unilateral moves that anticipate the results of talks on the final status" of Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry said.

Jerusalem is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians, and Moscow said the city's final status "must be resolved in the framework of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations" and on the basis of U.N. resolutions.

Moscow noted, however, that President Bush had also expressed strong reservations when he signed the spending bill from Congress that urged his administration to shift the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Bush said the clauses calling for the shift had no force because they violate his constitutional authority to conduct foreign policy.

Russia is part of the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers, which also includes the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

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