Benjamin Netanyahu & Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a rare visit to Israel today, discussing the Syrian crisis and Iran’s nuclear program with Israeli leaders.

Putin met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Russia has so far refused to support sanctions against Syria and rejected U.S. talk of regime change in that country. Putin told reporters: “From the very beginning of the so-called Arab Spring, Russia has been persuading its partners that democratic changes should take place in a civilized manner and without external intervention."

He added that he had discussed Iran’s nuclear program with the Israeli prime minister but gave no further details.

Putin will meet with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Tuesday June 26 in the West Bank city of Bethlehem and later travel to Jordan to meet with Malek Abdullah, the Jordanian king.

Putin aide Yuri Ushakov announced Putin’s trip, saying: “The head of state’s busy trip to the Middle East stresses the region’s significance in the system of our foreign policy priorities.”

He added that the trip is aimed at “the strengthening of Russia’s positions in that part of the world.”

Russia has criticized EU and U.S. unilateral sanctions on Iran and accused them of trying to bring about a regime change by creating economic distress within the country.

Iran is in the process of nuclear negotiations with the G5+1 and, despite three rounds of meeting in the past three months, little headway has been made in resolving the disputes.