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Soini negotiates in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Moscow

On Monday Foreign Minister Timo Soini heads to Moscow after a busy week that has included meetings with Iranian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Ministeri Timo Soini Yad Vashem -holokaustimuseossa Jerusalemissa 1. kesäkuuta 2016.
Ministeri Timo Soini Yad Vashem -holokaustimuseossa Jerusalemissa 1. kesäkuuta 2016. Image: Atef Safadi / EPA

Foreign Minister Timo Soini, the leader of the populist Finns Party, did not appear at Thursday afternoon's government press conference as he is on a foreign trip. Standing in for him at the Helsinki announcement of possible tax cuts was Justice and Employment Minister Jari Lindström, who led the party's parliamentary delegation until taking office a year ago.

Soini left Finland on Wednesday for a three-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The first day included meetings at the Knesset or parliament in Jerusalem, as well as a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum.

According to an official handout, Soini is to talk about bilateral relations, the peace process and regional situation in the Middle East and other topical matters with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

On his agenda are meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the Palestinian Authority's Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.

Contrast to outspoken predecessor

The visit is timed to celebrate 20 years of educational cooperation between Finland and the Palestinian Authority, aimed at boosting access to education in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Soini, who describes himself as a devout Catholic and a friend of Israel – in contrast to his predecessor, Erkki Tuomioja. The long-time Social Democratic minister on several occasions drew Israeli ire over comments such as his 2001 comparison of Israel's treatment of Palestinians to the Nazi treatment of the Jews.

Iranian FM visits Helsinki

Soini's meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders come just after talks with his Iranian opposite number Mohammad Javad Zarif. The two met in Helsinki on Tuesday.

The discussions will focus on the bilateral relations between Finland and Iran, regional questions in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, the relations between the EU and Iran, and other topical international issues.

Zarif, who was accompanied by a large business entourage, also met with President Sauli Niinistö and Speaker of Parliament Maria Lohela, who is Soini's Finns Party colleague. Zarif went on to visit Sweden and Latvia.

The previous week, Soini was in Brussels for a NATO conference. Finland and Sweden, non-members who participate in the alliance's affiliated Partnership for Peace programme, were invited to attend for the first time.

Moscow on Monday

On Monday Soini heads to Moscow for negotiations with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Topics will include the situation in Ukraine and in Syria, security developments in the Baltic Sea region, and other issues. The ministers will also discuss bilateral matters between Finland and Russia and regional cooperation. Soini is also to meet with representatives of non-governmental organisations.

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