russia - AP - December 19 2010
Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitali Churkin, in New York, December 18, 2010. Photo by AP
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Russia proposed on Tuesday that the UN Security Council make its first visit to the Middle East in more than three decades to help restart stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

In addition to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the 15-nation council should aim to visit Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.

Russia is one of five permanent council members with veto power, and a member of the so-called Quartet of Middle East peacemakers - which also includes the U.S., the EU and the UN - trying to break an impasse between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

He said the council could boost international efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with its first visit to the region since 1979. "We think that the Security Council could play a role in helping this move ahead," he said.

Council diplomats said privately that it was unclear whether the United States would support a council visit to the Middle East at the present time.

Churkin said the council would want to visit the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip "in some form." The militant Islamist group Hamas, which does not recognize Israel's right to exist, controls Gaza. The Palestinian Authority controls the West Bank.

Churkin said a Security Council visit would ideally take place soon, given a weekend statement from the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- that reiterated support for concluding Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by September.

The United States and the United Nations have urged the revival of peace talks mired by long-running Israeli-Palestinian disputes about Israeli settlements in the West Bank, boundaries, and the inflexibility of Hamas rulers in Gaza.

Middle East diplomacy has been thrown into further disarray by the weeks of political upheaval in neighboring Egypt - the key regional power broker - and other Arab states.