Moscow (dpa) – President Vladimir Putin met with his Egyptian
counterpart, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, in Moscow on Wednesday as part of
Russian efforts to serve as a leading mediator in Middle Eastern
conflicts.

The leaders focused on “the situation in the Middle East and Northern
Africa, as well as prospects for a Palestinian-Israeli resolution and
efforts to combat international terrorism,” the Kremlin said.

Al-Sissi told reporters after the meeting that he is satisfied with
the strengthening of business and military cooperation, according to
state news agency RIA Novosti.

Russia and Egypt conducted their first ever naval and aircraft drills
near the Egyptian port of Alexandria in June.

Russia is also building Egypt’s first nuclear power plant in the
northern district of El Dabaa.

Putin on Wednesday hailed that project as one of the largest
collaborations in the history of relations between the countries. He
said Russia is nearing completion of the practical analysis for the
project.

Putin also said Russia would increase its grain exports to Egypt.
Last year such exports amounted to 4 million metric tonnes, covering
40 per cent of Egypt’s demand, state media reported.

This was al-Sissi’s second visit to Moscow since May. Egypt’s
relations with the United States have waned following the ouster of
Egypt’s Islamist former president Mohammed Morsi.

Moscow has hosted a number of Middle Eastern leaders in recent weeks
as it seeks a greater mediation role in the Middle East, especially
concerning the Syrian civil war and efforts to combat Islamic State
militants, which have taken considerable territory in war-torn Syria
and Iraq.

Putin’s popularity rose internationally in late 2013 when Russia
negotiated a deal to dispose of the Syrian military’s chemical
weapons after allegations that they were being used on civilians.

But months later, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, critically
damaging Putin’s reputation on the world stage.

Now Russia is renewing its drive to be a mediator in the Middle East,
particularly to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has
ruled Syria for 15 years and is one of Russia’s biggest allies in the
region.

Putin on Tuesday hosted Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the crown
prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, in separate talks
that also broached the Syria issue.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II told Putin, “We have to find a solution in
Syria. Your role and the role of your country in uniting all the
opposing sides at the negotiation table for a peaceful solution are
critical,” according to a statement released by the Kremlin.

This month, the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran told reporters
in Moscow that al-Assad should remain in power even if there is a
transition period to allow members of the political opposition into
Syria’s leadership.

Those comments came in stark contrast to a statement by the Saudi
foreign minister after similar talks days earlier in Moscow in which
he said he does “not see a place for Assad in Syria’s future.”

Syria’s civil war has lasted four years and killed at least 250,000
people.