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Putin Suspects Israel of Pursuing Wider Goals in Lebanon Attack

MosNews | July 16 2006

President Vladimir Putin said he thinks Israel is pursuing wider goals in its military campaign against Lebanon than the return of its two captured soldiers, the Associated Press news agency reports.

“However complicated the questions are, maximum efforts must be applied to resolve the situation in a peaceful way and I think all efforts have not been exhausted,” Putin said early Sunday.

“However, it is our impression that aside from seeking to return the abducted soldiers, Israel is pursuing wider goals,” he said at a midnight news conference after a dinner opening the summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations. He did not elaborate.

Israel began military strikes against Lebanon on Wednesday, after Hezbollah militants captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid. As civilian deaths mount, diplomatic efforts to end the fighting have yet to get off the ground.

The issue is certain to dominate the G-8 summit, and differences between the leaders began to appear even before the annual meeting began.

U.S. President Bush, who met Saturday with Putin, has been outspoken in defending Israel and accusing Hezbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, of igniting the crisis.

Putin agreed it was unacceptable to pursue goals using force, but said that “at the same time, we work under the assumption that the use of force should be balanced.”

The G-8 countries — the United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — were expected to issue a declaration on the Lebanon crisis.

“We, the Russian side, regret ... that on the eve of the G-8 ... we see an escalation of the situation in the Middle East,” Putin said Sunday.

On Iran, Putin indicated that Russia had not changed its opposition to sanctions, and he defended the country’s right to pursue nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

“The question is not about toughening our stance, but about finding common approaches this is actually the most difficult, but can prove to be the most effective in solving the Iranian nuclear problem,” he said.

Turning to other issues, Putin said the summit would address conflicts in former Soviet states. He said he had discussed the issue with Bush.

Putin said their talks focused mostly on Georgia, where tensions are rising over the separatist provinces of Abkhazia and most recently South Ossetia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, who visited Bush at the White House last week, has made it a priority to bring the two rebel regions back into the government fold. Russia, which has peacekeepers in the region, has provided support to the separatists in part by issuing passports to their citizens.

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