Olmert to discuss Iran with Putin
( AP ) - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert flew to Moscow on Thursday in a surprise visit to discuss Iran's nuclear program with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who just returned from talks with Iranian leaders in Tehran.
The two leaders also were expected to discuss an arms deal that Russia is to sign with Syria, and Russia's role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking efforts.
Olmert's one-day visit was announced only after Putin had returned from Iran, where he vowed Tuesday to support Iran's pursuit of nuclear energy and warned "outside forces" - hinting at the United States - against using force against Tehran.
Olmert "will be very clear on the Israeli position that in no way can Iran achieve nuclear capability, that Iranian nuclear capability threatens the world, including Russia," Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin said Thursday. In announcing the one-day trip Wednesday, she said it had been scheduled several days earlier.
Israel considers Iran to be a threat to its existence, while Russia is a major provider of technology for Tehran's nuclear program, which the West strongly suspects is directed at the development of nuclear weapons.
President Bush said Wednesday that he wanted to get a readout directly from Putin about his visit to Iran and issued a stark warning that a nuclear-armed Iran could trigger World War III.
While in Tehran, Putin made an unspecified proposal concerning Iran's nuclear program to the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported. Officials close to hardliners within Iran's ruling Islamic establishment said they believed the proposal involved a "timeout" on sanctions if Iran suspends uranium enrichment.
On Thursday, however, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Putin "did not say any word" about the nuclear program during his meeting with the supreme leader, IRNA reported.
Olmert's talks with Putin also were expected to address new arms deals - reportedly Iranian-funded - under which Moscow would supply Syria with advanced surface-to-air and anti-aircraft missiles that Russia has not previously sold to other countries. Israel says Russian arms sold to Syria and Iran have been used by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Another possible item on the agenda could be last month's airstrike deep into Syria, in which the Israeli aircraft slipped past Russian-made Syrian air defense systems, hit their target and then left unchallenged.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has said Israel bombed an "unused military building" in the Sept. 6 raid.
Israel has been extremely secretive about the affair and only recently relaxed censorship to allow Israel-based journalists to report that Israeli aircraft attacked a military target deep inside Syria.
The visit was announced as visiting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Israeli and Palestinian leaders as part of preparations for a U.S.-hosted peace conference in November or December.
Rice was heading for London seeking support from Jordan's King Abdullah II for the conference after telling Israelis and Palestinians they have a new "moment of opportunity" to forge peace, despite the obstacles.