Olmert Lavrov 224.88.
(photo credit: GPO [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's airplane took off noon Monday on a 24-hour visit to Moscow for talks expected to focus on Iran's nuclear program and Russian arms sales to Teheran and Damascus.
Olmert, on what may be his last foreign trip as prime minister, will be meeting with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. He is also expected to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But he is not scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, still considered to be the focal point of power in the Kremlin. Tuesday is Putin's birthday, and he will not be in Moscow.
Since Olmert would not be meeting Putin, nothing overly dramatic was likely to transpire, Israeli government sources said.
The trip was hastily arranged for early September after the crisis in Georgia, the ensuing tension over Israel's arms sales to Georgia and proposed Russian arms sales to Syria.
The trip was postponed when the police recommended that Olmert be indicted on alleged corruption charges.
Olmert is expected to discuss with the Kremlin the proposed sale of state-of-the-art S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Syria and Iran, which Israel fears would severely limit its freedom in the air.
Putin has pledged in the past not to sell any arms in the region that would endanger Israel's security or tip the regional strategic balance.
Another topic of discussion will be the negotiations with the Palestinians and Russia's interest in holding a follow-up to the Annapolis conference, possibly in the spring.
Olmert will be bringing with him the cabinet's approval Sunday to transfer ownership of Sergei's Courtyard in downtown Jerusalem's Russian Compound to the Russian government, an issue Putin has been very much involved with and which Israel and the Russians have been negotiating for years.
On Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Russia was playing a destabilizing role in the region by selling advanced weaponry to Israel's enemies. During a meeting with visiting French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Barak called on Russia to play a positive role in the Middle East.
During their meeting in Jerusalem, Barak urged Kouchner to use France's diplomatic connections in to curb Hizbullah's military buildup. He also said Israel would do everything possible to free Gilad Schalit.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.
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