BETHLEHEM: Visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin praised his Palestinian counterpart Tuesday for what he said was a “responsible” position in negotiations with Israel, frozen for nearly four years, and said Russia had no problem recognizing a Palestinian state.

Putin also offered veiled criticism of Israel, saying unilateral actions – an apparent reference to Israeli settlement construction on war-won land – was not constructive.

Putin spoke at the end of a visit to the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by his side. Putin inaugurated a Russian cultural and language center in Bethlehem and toured the church built over the traditional birth grotto of Jesus.

Israeli-Palestinian talks on the terms of Palestinian statehood broke off in 2008. Repeated efforts to restart them have failed because of wide gaps between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas.Netanyahu says he is ready to resume talks but rejects preconditions. Abbas says there’s no point negotiating as long as Israel keeps building for Jews in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, occupied territories the Palestinians want for a state, along with the Gaza Strip.

Israel has moved half-a-million settlers to the West Bank and East Jerusalem since the 1967 war. It withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

“We talked about ways of overcoming the dilemma of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process,” Putin said Tuesday. “I point out here the responsible position of President Abbas and his endeavor to reach a peaceful settlement based on a two-state settlement.”

“I am sure that all unilateral actions are not constructive,” he added.

Russia is an important Mideast player, in part because it is a member of the Quartet of mediators that includes the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Of the four, Russia is seen as the most sympathetic to the Palestinians but has little sway over the group, because the United States has traditionally claimed the dominant role in mediating between the two sides.

With negotiations frozen, Abbas has sought to increase Palestinian leverage by seeking U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine according to the pre-1967 war frontiers. Palestinian diplomats have toured the world in search of recognition of Palestine by individual countries.

Dozens of countries, including the former Soviet Union, did so after a 1988 statehood declaration by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Putin said Tuesday that Russia sticks by that decision. The United States and Israel have urged Abbas to halt all attempts to seek recognition of a Palestinian state and wait for a deal with Israel.

Abbas reiterated Tuesday that negotiations with Israel remain his key goal. He said he had asked Putin for help in persuading Israel to release veteran Palestinian prisoners in jail since before the interim Israeli-Palestinian peace deals of the mid-1990s.

Later Tuesday, Putin traveled to neighboring Jordan, where officials said he had discussed with Jordan’s King Abdullah II ways to end the uprising in Syria, restarting Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, Iran’s nuclear program, Russian assistance to Jordan to build a nuclear reactor for peaceful purposes and modernizing an oil terminal in the Gulf of Aqaba.

As the closed-door meeting began in Amman, Jordan’s banned Tahrir, or Liberation Party, condemned Putin as an “enemy who is not welcome in Jordan.”

It called Putin “an arch enemy of Islam and Muslims,” citing his close ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad. “His visit to Jordan is an arrogant challenge to the feeling of Muslims and a disdain of innocent bloodshed in Syria.”

Monday, Putin met Netanyahu, who urged Russia to step up pressure on Iran to curb its suspect nuclear program. Putin said his talks with Netanyahu covered the situation in Iran and the uprising in Syria, adding that he saw negotiations as the only solution for such matters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 27, 2012, on page 8.