Russian to Meet Candidates During Stopover in Jewish State

Russia’s foreign minister was expected to meet with three of Israel’s prime ministerial candidates during a visit to the Jewish state later this week.

Igor Ivanov was scheduled to arrive Thursday as part of a regional tour that will also include stopovers in Egypt, Syria and the Palestinian self-rule areas.

His meetings with Israeli opposition leader Ehud Barak and Center Party leader Yitzhak Mordechai were initiated by the Russian side, the Israeli daily Ha’aretz reported, because the Russian government wants to dispel the impression that it supports incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s candidacy in the May 17 elections.

This comes after Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov commented during Netanyahu’s visit to Russia last month that if he were an Israeli citizen, he would vote for Netanyahu.

During Ivanov’s two-day visit to Israel, Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon was expected to accompany his Russian counterpart on an aerial tour of what was described as “strategic” sites along Israel’s borders.

During a planned meeting between Netanyahu and Ivanov, the two sides were expected to discuss the transfer of advanced weapons technology from Russia to Iran, Russia’s plans to sell military equipment to the Syrian army and possible Israeli-Russian defense cooperation.

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