PM Olmert, Pres. Putin Meet for Three Hours

In a surprise visit, Prime Minister Olmert met privately for three hours in Moscow with Russian President Putin on Thursday evening.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz,

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Russian President Vladimir Putin met privately for three hours in Moscow on Thursday evening. At the conclusion of the meeting, which had not been publicly announced prior to Olmert's abrupt departure for the Russian capital earlier that day, the Prime
Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian Authority negotiations were priority items.
Minister's Office (PMO) released a statement saying that the talks were "held in an open, serious and good atmosphere...."

According to the PMO and the official Russian news agency, TASS, the issues of Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian Authority negotiations were priority items on the leaders' agenda. However, the PMO added that they also discussed bilateral issues and the need to confront global terrorism. TASS said that Olmert and Putin agreed there are "good prospects for development" of bilateral relations between Russia and Israel, while Israeli sources noted that they would "remain in close contact in order to advance the two countries' mutual interests."
In discussing the role of Russia in the Middle East, Putin reportedly made it clear that his country views Israel's security interests as a significant component of its regional policies.

Regarding Iran's development of a nuclear arsenal, Prime Minister Olmert reiterated for President Putin Israel's stance that an Iran with nuclear weapons poses a threat to international peace. Olmert emphasized the important role of the steps being currently pursued in the matter, such as international sanctions. Those efforts, he said, have led to a halt in Iran's enrichment of uranium.

For his part, the Russian leader tried to ease Israel's concerns over Iran's development of nuclear power. "We know how much you are worried by Iran's nuclear program," Putin told Prime Minister Olmert.

The Moscow meeting came on the heels of the Russian President's visit to Tehran earlier this week, during which he attended a summit of Caspian Sea nations - Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. During the summit, Putin pledged to assist Iran to complete its Bushehr nuclear facility, and warned against the use of force to prevent Iranian nuclear development.

The leaders of the Caspian Sea nations in attendance agreed to bar foreign powers from using their territory for military strikes against any other member country. However, it was also reported that Putin suggested to Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran suspend its nuclear development program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

In discussing the planned international Middle East peace summit sponsored by the United States, planned for November, Prime Minister Olmert emphasized Israel's commitment to its success. President Putin said that Russia, which is to play a role in the summit as a member of the Quartet, supports the diplomatic process underway and will act to promote the success of the Middle East talks, as well. He also commended the
"Relations between Russia and Israel are developing." -- Russian President Putin
Prime Minister on his personal efforts on the diplomatic front with the Palestinian Authority.

During a press conference ahead of the Olmert-Putin meeting, the Prime Minister expressed the hope that "this meeting will help us reach progress in bilateral relations." Responding, President Putin said, "It will."

Noting that Olmert had visited Moscow one year ago, Putin added, "I must say that our contacts have continued. Relations between Russia and Israel are developing both in the political and economic spheres."

In characterizing the meeting between himself and Putin, Olmert said the talks were "aimed at the strengthening of relations between Russia, a world power, and the State of Israel."