WASHINGTON - At the same time that Jerusalem and Washington were exchanging press releases on Israel's annexation bill, a Russian news agency reported that President Donald Trump spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Putin is hosting Palestinian President Abbas in Moscow today, and he reportedly told Abbas that Trump coveys "his best wishes" to the Palestinian leader, who has been boycotting the U.S. Administration for two months now, ever since Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Abbas told Putin he could no longer accept the role of the United States as a mediator in talks with Israel because of Washington's behaviour, the Interfax news agency reported.
"We state that from now on we refuse to cooperate in any form with the U.S. in its status of a mediator, as we stand against its actions," Abbas told Putin at the start of talks in Moscow. He said last week that he hoped Russia could assume a greater role in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, saying the United States "can no longer play a leading role."
Putin said during the meeting with the Palestinian leader that he had just spoken by telephone with U.S. President Donald Trump.
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Putin mentioned the call with Trump at the start of his meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Monday.
He said: "Naturally we spoke about the Palestinian-Israeli settlement" and told Abbas: "I would like to convey to you his best wishes."
Putin met Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu exactly two weeks ago in Moscow. Russia has managed to maintain robust relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority government, as well as Israeli rivals Syria and Iran.
The region's situation is "far from what we want to see," Putin said in comments carried by state news agency TASS.
Trump honored a campaign promise in December by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and vowing to relocate the U.S. Embassy there.
The move outraged Palestinians and others across the Muslim world. Palestinian leaders have said it means Washington can no longer serve as a Mideast peace broker.
Reuters contributed to this report.