DAMASCUS, Syria — Russia's president said Tuesday that Israeli-Arab tensions threaten to draw the Middle East into a new catastrophe, adding Moscow's weight to a diplomatic push to ease antagonism between Israel and Syria.
The Russian and Syrian presidents, meeting in Damascus, also affirmed ally Iran's right to develop a peaceful nuclear energy program, as world powers press for new economic sanctions to try to stop what they say is really a drive for an atomic weapons capability.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, whose country has been building up its influence as a Middle East mediator, pledged its assistance in pushing the region toward peace. "Tensions in the Middle East threaten to lead to a new explosion or even a catastrophe," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Tuesday that Iran is trying to provoke a conflict between Israel and Syria. "They are spreading falsehoods in order to escalate tensions, and it has no basis," he said. "We want stability and peace," he said, offering Syria peace talks without preconditions.
Last month, Israeli President Shimon Peres accused Syria of providing Scud missiles to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Syria denied the accusation and warned such talk seemed calculated to set the stage for military action.