Moscow, 30 January 2020 (dpa/MIA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday for pardoning an Israeli woman who had been jailed in Russia on a drug charge.
“I would like to thank you on behalf of the entire nation of Israel for your timely decision to release Naama Issachar,” Netanyahu told Putin in Moscow, according to a Kremlin transcript.
Issachar’s sentencing last year to more than seven years in prison – after several grams of marijuana were found in her luggage at a Moscow airport – rattled relations between the countries.
“All of it was found in her luggage while it was being transferred from one plane to another,” Putin told Netanyahu. Issachar was at the airport on a stopover from India to Israel.
“Thank God that she had not crossed the border into the Russian Federation,” Putin said, according to the transcript of the leaders’ public opening comments.
Putin signed the pardon on Wednesday ahead of Netanyahu’s visit. He and Netanyahu had met with the woman’s mother last week in Israel.
Netanyahu described Thursday’s visit as symbolizing “further strengthening relations.” He later met with Issachar at a Moscow airport as they were about to leave the country.
“It is very moving to see you. Now we return home,” Netanyahu told Issachar, smiling for a photo, according to a press release by his office.
Russia has maintained close relations with Israel despite supporting regional rivals Syria and Iran in the devastating Syrian civil war.
Netanyahu had flown to Moscow to personally present to Putin the United States’ new plan for the Middle East.
Earlier this week in Washington, Netanyahu was alongside US President Donald Trump while the latter was announcing the plan.
The plan would give Israel control over the contentious Jewish settlements on the West Bank and the strategic Jordan Valley.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected the plan, emphasizing that he would prefer to continue peace talks with neutral brokers.
Russia has been pursuing a greater role as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians in recent years. Putin met with both Netanyahu and Abbas last week in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, respectively.
“Russia is ready to continue to undertake all efforts, do everything it can, to reach a viable peace in the Middle East,” Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in comments carried by state news agency TASS on Wednesday.
Russia’s top diplomat has suggested that an international quartet of Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations should examine the plan.