Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, with President Peres at the Red Army Memorial in Netanya.
Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, with President Peres at the Red Army Memorial in Netanya on Monday. Photo by Reuters
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AP
In this Jan. 25, 2005 file photo, Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during a signing ceremony in the Kremlin, Moscow. Photo by AP
AP
In this Jan. 25, 2005 file photo, President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila, left, greet Syrian President Bashar Assad, second left, and his wife Asma Akhras. Photo by AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin told senior Israeli officials on Monday that while he was not obligated to Syrian President Bashar Assad, he urged the West to think carefully before trying to remove him, a senior Israeli diplomatic sources said on Monday.

"We asked Putin for Russia to work more actively to preserve stability in Syria, to prevent biological and chemical weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah or other terror groups," the source said. "Putin said that he is not obligated to Assad, but that Russia and Syria have strategic relations."

Russia has to date expressed support for the Assad regime, despite the bloodbath the regime is conducting against his citizens.

During his meeting with President Shimon Peres, Putin discussed the possibility that a Western state would act to bring down the Assad regime in Syria.

"From my experience, one must think about the consequences of an act before doing it," Putin was quoted as saying. "Look what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. With regard to Syria, one must think carefully whether the opposition that will rise to power will be what the West wants it to be, or whether it will end up being totally the opposite."

Peres reportedly presented Putin with a proposal to put Syria under the control of the Arab League and the United Nations for two years, until democratic elections could be held there.

"Assad stopped being an alternative when he started firing at his children," Peres said. "None of us can tolerate coffins filled with the bodies of children. That's beyond politics."

With regard to Iran, the senior diplomatic source said Jerusalem had "asked Russia to be more passive and continue to honor the UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. We asked that Russia maintain a united front with the West, and not demonstrate relative moderation toward Iran."

All told, Israeli officials were satisfied by the talks with Putin, saying the sense was that common ground could be reached on the Iranian nuclear issue.

"There was a feeling that Putin and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu found a common language," a diplomatic source said. "There was an open conversation between the two on the Iranian issue. Putin gave us the feeling that there's what to talk about, and not that each side was coming just to clarify its stance."

While there didn't seem to have been any agreements reached on Iran's nuclear program or Russia's support for the Assad regime, "If there had been a substantive disagreement during the talks, neither side would have concealed it," said a source familiar with the content of the talks.

"During the meeting there were in-depth, detailed talks on the Iranian issue. Netanyahu and Putin agreed that the discourse between them should continue via an open and continuous line. During the meeting there was also a mechanism created for the two sides' teams to advance the discussions on the issue."

Earlier, during the reception ceremony for Putin at the President's Residence, which included an Israel Defense Forces honor guard, Peres said he was confident Russia would aid in the effort to hinder Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I know Russia rejects Iranian development of weapons of mass destruction," said Peres. "It's important that this effect not let up. Nuclear weapons in Iranian hands are a threat to the security and stability of Iran's neighbors, and essentially the entire world.

"Iran has made explicit threats against the State of Israel," Peres added. "We cannot accept nuclear weapons being in the hands of those who threaten to destroy us."

Putin responded by saying: "The region in which Israel sits greatly influences the feelings of the entire international community. Russia has a national interest in assuring peace and tranquillity for Israel."