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(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded positively on Thursday to Amal head Nabih Berri's peace-talk overtures, calling the Lebanese Shi'ite leaders words "interesting."
"Anytime an Arab leader says he wants to talk peace, we have to listen," Olmert told reporters.
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"Now is the time to raise the issue to returning to peace negotiations," Berri, the Lebanese National Assembly speaker, told the Arab-language Al-Arabiya newspaper while visiting in Paris. "It is possible that now is a very appropriate time for peace talks."
Berri's comments were also published Thursday morning in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat daily.
Speaking in an interview with Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television, he said Arab-Israeli peace negotiations should be revived based on the Saudi peace plan adopted by the Arab league in 2002.
"Lebanon can liberate its remaining occupied land through the resistance, as it did in the past, but it can achieve that through peace... if it is a comprehensive peace that includes the whole region," said Berri.
Olmert said Israel was interested in holding discussions with representatives of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government. Saniora has repeatedly rejected calls by Olmert to open a dialogue.
Olmert wrapped up a three-day visit to Moscow on Thursday - one short on concrete achievement, but long on what his spokesman termed constructive dialogue - by meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. This was Olmert's first trip abroad since Cpl. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas on June 25.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the discussions with Lavrov focused on the Palestinian issue, with Lavrov saying that just because Russia had contacts with Hamas didn't mean it agreed with the organization's policies.
Russia invited Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal to visit in March, and although they have not held high-level talks since, they have stayed in touch with Hamas through Russia's representative in Ramallah.
Lavrov told Olmert that Russia felt these contacts were necessary to impress upon Hamas the need for it to accept the Quartet's three criteria for extending legitimacy: recognizing Israel, forswearing terrorism and accepting previous agreements.
Lavrov, according to Olmert's office, also said Mashaal was playing a "negative role" in efforts to get Hamas to change its policies.
Olmert reiterated his position that the key to progress on the Palestinian track was Hamas's unequivocal acceptance of the three criteria.
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said Lavrov did not repeat comments he made to a Russian news agency Wednesday to the effect that Teheran was not necessarily a clear and present danger to world peace and security.
The officials said Israel was satisfied that Russia understood the danger posed by a nuclear Iran.
Following the meeting with Lavrov, Olmert attended a Jewish community event at a Chabad center in Moscow along with Russian-speaking Israeli tycoon Lev Leviev. The night before, he attended a similar affair put on by a Jewish organization at a synagogue. That event was attended by another Russian-speaking Israeli businessman, Arkadi Gaydamak.
At Thursday's event, Olmert praised Leviev for his Jewish education projects throughout Russia. He also called on the Jewish community to "pack their bags" and immigrate to Israel even though their life in Russia was comfortable and they had a "friendly and supportive" president in Vladimir Putin.
Olmert held separate meetings in the afternoon with a small group of parents whose children are currently serving in the IDF and another group whose children died during their army service.
Channel 2 reported on Thursday night that Saudi Arabia would be willing to meet openly with Israel to discuss the Arab League initiative of 2002, which calls for a return to the 1949-1967 borders in exchange for recognition and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev told The Jerusalem Post that Israel maintained lines of communication with Arab countries with which it lacked formal diplomatic ties. These communications have continued since the war in Lebanon last summer, he said.
He said, "Israel today has formal diplomatic relations with three members of the Arab League - Jordan, Egypt and Mauritania. It would be happy to widen the arc of friendship in the region."
He did not say whether future talks would be held on the basis of the Arab League initiative. "If the leadership in the Arab states wants to talk to Israel, we say welcome. We believe peace serves the interest of all countries and all people," he said.
If such talks were held, he said, he assumed that both sides would put their positions on the table in the hopes of finding a solution acceptable to both sides.
Meanwhile Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued his harsh rhetoric against Israel and called the Jewish state the "greatest insult to human dignity."
"This faked Zionist regime has been formed in the heart of the Islamic world with people from throughout the world and the crimes, aggressions and ballyhoo committed by this regime so far is the greatest insult to human dignity," ISNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying in a speech in Islamshahr, south of Teheran.
He said Israel had destroyed Lebanon and instead of blaming the Jewish state, Lebanon was being criticized for defending itself.
Ahmadinejad called on the Iranian people to attend Friday's Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) anti-Israel protests.
Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to this report.