(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Iranians need to fear that "something will happen to them that they don't want" if they continue their nuclear march, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday after holding a four-hour meeting here with Russian President Vladimir Putin that dealt extensively with the Iranian threat.
Olmert, in a briefing with journalists after the Putin meeting, pointedly stopped short of saying whether the Iranians needed to fear a possible military action or UN sanctions.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post whether the Russians asked, or warned him, against taking military action against Iran, Olmert replied that the issue was not raised.
Sharansky: 'Olmert should be tough with Putin'
Olmert told Putin, who until now has opposed sanctions on Iran, that there would be no chance of stopping Iran from continuing with its nuclear program if Iran believed that nothing would happen if it developed the program further.
Olmert said he told Putin that Israel had "no room" for error on this issue.
Olmert did not report on any assurances he heard from Putin on the matter, other than saying that the Russians were also concerned about a nuclear Iran, and that he was convinced that the Russian leader had a better understanding after the meeting of the constraints under which Israel was operating.
Olmert did say, however, that Israel doesn't feel that the assistance that Russia was giving Iran to build a nuclear reactor at Bushehr was "making the difference" regarding the country's nuclear weapons potential.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, said in comments published by the RIA new agency that "Reports from Iran do not indicate a real threat to peace and security."
Lavrov, whom Olmert is scheduled to meet on Thursday, the final day of his three-day trip to Russia, said that although implementing some course of action against Iran was vital, it should be a measured response and "in accordance with the situation in Iran today."
Diplomatic officials in Moscow said that the Russians dispute Israel's contention that Iran was just a few months away from acquiring nuclear capability, and have disputed it for some time,
Olmert met Putin in the Kremlin for some four hours, first in the presence of some 20 aides from both sides, and then in a more intimate group of six people.
After the first half of the meeting, Olmert said Israel could not abide a nuclear Iran with non-conventional weapon capabilities.
Standing next to Putin in the Kremlin, Olmert said that "Israel does not have the luxury to allow the creation of a situation where a country like Iran has non-conventional potential. Israel can never abide this type of situation. For us, when the head of a country says he wants to destroy us, it does not sound like an empty declaration, but something we must prepare to prevent through all acceptable and possible ways."
Olmert said he heard a "deep and expansive" analysis on the problems involved in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat from Putin, and that he was convinced that Putin understood "now, more than in the past, the constraints Israel is facing on this issue." Putin, during his statement, made no mention at all of the issue.
Olmert, when asked later whether he was disappointed by Putin's silence on this, said there were different levels of discussions on Iran, and that not everything said privately was said in public.
"I made a public statement in his presence that was very explicit, Olmert said.
In addition to meeting Putin, Olmert met Wednesday with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, one of the leading contenders to succeed Putin.
Olmert said that he discussed at great length with both Putin and Ivanov the issue of Russian arms that found their way into Hizbullah's hands, and that he received "very detailed answers." "The Russians understand why we are very concerned about this, and I was impressed by the steps they have taken on this matter," Olmert said.
Regarding the Palestinian issue and Hamas, Olmert said that Putin never once asked Israel to be more flexible regarding the three conditions the Quartet had set to give a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government legitimacy.
Olmert spelled out the conditions in his statement, making it clear that Israel would broach no fudging of the issues.
The key to progress on the Palestinian track, Olmert said, was full PA agreement to the Quartet's criteria: "recognition of Israel, clear and unequivocal, and a recognition and full implementation of agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and complete end to terrorism."
There was some concern in Jerusalem last month that Russia was the weak link in the Quartet, and wanted to soften these conditions.
Olmert again reiterated that he was interested in meeting Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as soon as possible, and said that his office was in almost daily contact with Abbas's office. He said he felt an obligation to deal with the Palestinian issue, and was not interested in "freezing" the situation as is.
During his briefing with reporters, Olmert said that Putin made clear that while Russia felt its ties with the Arab world were a strategic asset, it would never return to the days of the Soviet Union when its relations in the Middle East were completely one-sided.
Putin, in his comments, said the situation in the Middle East required all sides to show "great responsibility and restraint" and that "only a just and inclusive agreement acceptable to all the nations in the region can be stable and long-term."
Olmert said that Putin did not raise the issue of convening an international peace conference, as he had done before. He said that he spoke with Putin about Syria and its President Bashar Assad, but would not reveal the contents of that discussion.
Meanwhile, Vice Premier Shimon Peres told a conference call of 500 top American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) officials on Wednesday that he was concerned that many Middle Eastern countries could develop nuclear technology over the next decade and create an existential threat to Israel. He said the best way to prevent such a scenario was to achieve a far-reaching peace agreement with the countries of the region and that the path to progress with the Palestinians was via economic ventures.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report