Israel's defiant Olmert says will stay on the job

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed on Sunday to stay in office and continue to lead the Kadima party, showing no signs of buckling under pressure of a police corruption probe and calls for him to step down, Reuters reported.

Olmert has denied wrongdoing in the case of a New York-based financier who testified in court last week that he gave $150,000 in cash to the Israeli leader while he held previous public positions.

Olmert, who has promised to quit if indicted, has admitted receiving money from Morris Talansky but says the funds were legitimate campaign contributions and his actions were all legal. His lawyers have yet to cross-examine Talansky.

"In all the matters that concern me, I just want to say, I have not yet been given the opportunity, but I will have the chance and I will say what needs to be said and clarify what must be clarified in an unequivocal manner," Olmert said.

After the testimony, Defence Minister Ehud Barak's left-leaning Labour Party, Olmert's main coalition partner, called on him to step aside and threatened to force an early general election, without setting a firm deadline.

Of more immediate concern to Olmert are efforts by Kadima rivals, led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, to pursue an internal leadership ballot to pick his replacement.

Kadima sources said Olmert wants his party to put off any such vote for months, hoping to ride out the police probe.

In a veiled comment aimed at Livni, who called on Olmert to quit in 2007 over his handling of the 2006 war in Lebanon and who sat at a table with him on Sunday night, Olmert said other Kadima members looking to topple him would have to wait.

"I know that political events of the last few days have put pressure on some people. ... I propose that we do not act under pressure," he said.

"We are charged with a heavy responsibility of managing the affairs of state and we should do so in a considered and thoughtful manner. ... I think that we must subdue anybody who is not calm and continue to act as a united, strong and focussed party," he added.

Olmert's political future has cast a shadow over his role in ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

U.S. President George W. Bush hopes Palestinian statehood talks can achieve a deal before he leaves office in about seven months, but Israeli domestic political turmoil could derail the process in which Olmert is deeply involved.

The embattled leader sets off on a visit to the United States on Monday to discuss issues at the heart of U.S.-Israeli relations and the Middle East conflict, but told his Kadima colleagues that he would continue to work upon his return.

"Tomorrow evening I will leave for an important visit which will involve the most intrinsic and delicate matters concerning the Israel's future. Next week, when I return, we will have a chance to continue to move forward the processes which we took upon ourselves and of which Kadima is the engine," he said.

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