PRIME MINISTER OF SPAIN JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO: Good afternoon. Thank you all for coming to this press conference. Above all, I would like to say how pleased and grateful I am for this visit by President Putin, which will considerably strengthen the already strong and warm political human ties that exist between Spain and Russia.
In conclusion I would like to say that during our talks today we discussed the main themes of concern to both countries today – above all the subject of Iran. It is my view that the Russian Federation and President Putin will have a decisive role to play concerning the dialogue and the objective horizons for peace in the Middle East following the election in Palestine, and also with regard to the situation in Iran, or rather, with regard to Iran’s relations with the international community.
QUESTION: Mr President, it looks as though the United States has taken most of the initiative of late in the Middle East peace process, while Russia has become somewhat distanced from participation in decisions on this conflict. What steps does Moscow intend taking now, following the Hamas victory in the Palestinian election?
I also have a question for Mr Zapatero. Responding to journalists’ questions before leaving for Madrid, President Putin confirmed his explanations regarding why Russia refuses to recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation. He noted that the Russian leadership has its own view of the situation in the Middle East and that he would discuss this with you during his visit.
It seems as though you have indeed discussed this matter. To what extent do you share the Russian leadership’s views, in particular, Moscow’s refusal to recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation?
JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO: The international community is very concerned about the future of the Middle East. There have been long years of suffering and difficulties and attempts to reach a peace settlement between Israel and the people of Palestine. This problem has gone through many different situations. We note now that a new situation that has arisen following the election.
Practically the entire international community would like to see the process move forward without violence. I think that development should be based on the strategy proposed by the ‘quartet’ of mediators. We need to bolster the role of Moscow and President Putin in order to inject this peace process with new strength. Spain therefore supports Mr Putin’s initiative, keeping in mind here the philosophy and the scheme set out by the ‘quartet’, in order that this peace process, this dialogue, go ahead based on the parameters agreed on by the international community.
VLADIMIR PUTIN: I do not think that Russia has moved away of late from its responsibility and its cooperation in settling the conflict in the Middle East. On the contrary, our Foreign Ministry has been working quite actively within the ‘quartet’, on a bilateral basis, and with all the parties involved, with our Israeli partners and with the Palestinians.
As you know, I visited the Middle East not so long ago and I met with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. At the same time, what I want to say is that it is my deep conviction that burning the bridges, especially in politics, is the easiest road but also the most dead-end option. This is why, after analysing the behaviour of each side engaged in this conflict, we decided that rather than rushing to declare this or that organisation a terrorist organisation, we would try to work with all the organisations taking part in the process of trying to bring peaceful life to this volatile part of the world.
It is for this reason that we did not recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation. Today we need to recognise that Hamas has come to power in the Palestinian Autonomy through democratic and legitimate elections, and we need to respect the Palestinian people’s choice. At the same time, we also need to look for steps and solutions that would be acceptable for the political forces now at the head of the Palestinian Autonomy, for the entire international community and for Israel.
We are maintaining our contacts with Hamas and we plan soon to invite the leadership of this organisation to Moscow to search precisely for the kind of solutions I referred to.