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Israeli PM vows more Ukraine talks, even if prospects ‘not great’

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Israel’s premier said Sunday his country had a “moral obligation” to help stem fighting in Ukraine even if chances of success were “not great,” after shuttle diplomacy that saw him visit the Kremlin.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met for three hours with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on Saturday, before flying to Berlin to meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The Israeli premier, acting after Kyiv requested him to launch a dialogue with Moscow in the wake of Russia’s invasion, has also held three phone calls in 24 hours with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

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Speaking before his weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett said he could “not expand further” on his talks but that Israel would press on with its diplomatic efforts “as needed.”

“Even if the chance is not great - as soon as there is even a small opening, and we have access to all sides and the capability - I see this as our moral obligation to make every effort,” he said.

Bennett has so far walked a cautious line on the Ukraine conflict, seeking to preserve delicate security cooperation with Russia, which has a large military presence in Israel’s northern neighbor, Syria.

Bennett has not joined Western leaders - notably key ally the United States - in forcefully condemning the Russian invasion, instead stressing Israel’s strong relations with Moscow and Kyiv.

His sit-down with Putin was the first by a foreign leader since the day Russian forces invaded Ukraine last week.

Bennett and Putin also discussed ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a process Israel opposes, according to an Israeli official.

On Saturday, Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog said they had agreed an approach for resolving issues crucial to restoring that pact, which began to unravel after the US unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and then ramped up sanctions on Tehran.

Those issues centered on outstanding questions the International Atomic Energy Agency has about the past presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites in Iran.

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