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    Syria welcomes stronger Russia role in the Middle East - experts

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    Syria would welcome the expansion of Moscow's political role in the Middle East, Syrian and Russian experts said ahead of President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Damascus next week.

    Syria would welcome the expansion of Moscow's political role in the Middle East, Syrian and Russian experts said ahead of President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Damascus next week.

    "After the USSR collapsed and Moscow voluntarily left the Middle East, the balance of power shifted in favor of Israel and the United States," Samir Ismail, Director of the Center for Strategic Studies at Damascus University, said. "The return of Russia, one of the poles of world policy, will bring balance, safety and stability to the region."

    He said President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Damascus would be challenging. The peace process in the region has come to a halt and Syria faces threats from Israel on one side, and pressure and accusations from the United States on the other.

    Under these circumstances, "Russia, a key player in the Middle East Quartet, should force Israel to resume the peace process," Samir said. "Israel is not yet ready to accept the conditions of fair and comprehensive peace in the region, and so needs pressure from the international community."

    Syrian lawmaker Khaled Abboud said Washington has been trying to establish "absolute control" over the Middle East over the past few years. He said the strengthening of Russia's position will benefit the region and "will defend them from the plans the United States and Israel are trying to impose."

    But this does not mean a return to Cold War era politics, he said. Syrians hope that the assertion of Russia's role in the world and in the Middle East will stabilize the situation in the region and achieve a balance that has been absent in the unipolar world.

    Yelena Melkumyan, professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities, said Syria was an important regional partner for Russia.

    "Part of the reason is the Middle East settlement," she said. "Russia is trying to revive the peace process, in particular the Syrian track."

    "The Russian visit will be a sign of support for isolated Syria, which Western countries accuse of supporting terrorism, although it mainly only supports Palestinian movements," Melkumyan added. "Russia does not consider Hamas and Hezbollah to be terrorist organizations; on that point Russia is at odds with some other countries."

    Russian experts rule out a confrontation between Moscow and the West over the Middle East. They say Moscow, which is rapidly improving ties with the United States, will instead seek to boost its constructive contribution to common peace efforts.

    Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, said Russia has long sought to lessen tensions in Syrian-Israeli relations and settle the conflict between the two countries.

    "Moscow believes that progress is feasible in this direction," he said. "The parties have been close to a settlement on numerous occasions, but the process has always been blocked."

    "I believe that the Syrian-Israeli track in the Middle Eastern settlement will be among the issues discussed during the president's visit to Damascus," Naumkin added. "In addition to being one of the four members of the Middle East Quartet, Moscow could also pursue a separate role in mediating relations between Syria and Israel, not least because efforts by other players, particularly Turkey, have yet to produce any tangible results."

    DAMASCUS, May 7 (RIA Novosti) 

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