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Putin, Saudi king meet in landmark visit

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and President Vladimir Putin of Russia spoke in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, yesterday during the first visit by a Russian leader to the kingdom. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and President Vladimir Putin of Russia spoke in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, yesterday during the first visit by a Russian leader to the kingdom. (dmitry astakhov/ASSOCIATED PRESS/itar-tass)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- President Vladimir Putin of Russia held talks yesterday with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the first visit by a Russian leader to the kingdom.

King Abdullah gave Putin, who accused the United States on Saturday of making the world a more dangerous place, a red carpet welcome. Prior to the talks urged Moscow to help revive the Arab-Israeli peace process.

"There is no doubt that Russia has an important role in achieving peace," the king told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency ahead of the trip, which Moscow hopes will help restore Soviet-era links with the Middle Eastern region.

Saudi media has said Moscow also wants to sell Riyadh, which enjoyed a record budget surplus of $78 billion last year on high oil prices, military hardware including tanks, and antimissile systems as well as win a tender to expand Saudi railways.

Putin's trip highlights a growing connection between the two nations after the king's visit to Moscow in 2003. Riyadh revived its ties with Moscow in 1990 as the communist Soviet era ended. The two nations first established diplomatic ties in the 1920s.

In addition to addressing the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the two leaders discussed cooperation between the world's two top oil producers, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Russia denies having plans to join a "gas OPEC."

Russia, which belongs to the Quartet sponsoring Arab-Israeli peace which also comprises the United States, the EU, and the United Nations, wants to play a bigger diplomatic role in the Middle East. Putin will also visit Qatar and Jordan.

"We hope the Quartet's current effort [succeeds] to revive the peace process and concentrate on resolving the main issues at their root after partial solutions failed to achieve the required progress," the king said before the talks.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia brokered a deal between Islamist Palestinian group Hamas and the US-backed Fatah faction of President Mahmoud Abbas ending months of factional fighting and clearing the way for a national unity government.

King Abdullah had said he hoped Putin's visit would further cooperation on oil and in investment and air transport, but he gave no details.

Ahead of the visit, Putin criticized the United States, saying Washington was making the world a more dangerous place by pursuing policies aimed at making it the "one single master."

His remarks coincided with disagreement between Russia and the United States over the Iraq war and the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea.

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