Putin Olmert 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came out of a three-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin Thursday night "with an understanding that Russia is concerned about Iran having nuclear weapons," a senior official in Olmert's office said.
The official said the two men spoke extensively about the Iranian nuclear issue during the meeting, which was held almost entirely in private, with Olmert expressing Israel's position of the need for stronger and more effective sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
Olmert's plea came a day after Putin made the first visit by a Russian leader to Iran since World War II and said there was no evidence that Teheran was pursuing nuclear weapons, and on the same day that Putin questioned the wisdom of sanctions against Iran.
"Direct dialogue with states where there are problems is always more productive and a quicker path to success than the path of threats, sanctions or even force," Putin said during a televised question-and-answer session.
Concern about a Russian or Chinese veto is one of the main hurdles that has kept a resolution calling for a third, stiffer round of sanctions against Iran from reaching the UN Security Council.
Olmert, who was last in Moscow exactly a year ago, paid a lightning visit to the Russian capital in a trip Israeli officials said underscored Jerusalem's belief that the diplomatic momentum in stopping Iran from gaining nuclear weapons was losing ground.
The prime minister left for Moscow in the late morning, and returned to Israel after midnight.
We know how concerned you are about the situation surrounding the Iranian [nuclear program]," Putin told Olmert before the meeting. "I am ready to share the results of my visit."
"I would be glad to hear from you about the results of your trip to Iran and talk about other concerns," Olmert said.
Israeli officials said Olmert was particularly interested in hearing details of a deal to end the standoff with Iran that Putin offered Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during their meeting on Wednesday.
Israeli officials described the Olmert-Putin meeting as "exceedingly" warm. They said the two men agreed to meet more than once a year, which is currently the case.
Olmert, according to his office, also "expressed Israeli concern over Iran and Syria trying to acquire Russian weapons that have the potential to change the balance in the region."
Over the last three years, Israel has consistently - and to little avail - tried to persuade Moscow not to sell state-of-the art weaponry, including antiaircraft missiles, to Syria.
Olmert also discussed with Putin the recent developments on the Palestinians track, and said Hamas - which Russia has had contacts with in the recent past - played a "destructive role" and should be sidelined.
Olmert's office said it had no immediate information as to whether the two leaders discussed the IDF soldiers held captive by Hamas and Hizbullah. On Wednesday night, when the trip was first announced, they said this was not expected to come up in the talks.
Nevertheless, the London-based Al-Hayat pan-Arab newspaper reported Thursday that Putin and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed the matter when Putin was in Iran.
Olmert's visit to Moscow was the first in a series of overseas visits by Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that will concentrate, among other matters, on the Iranian issue.
Olmert is scheduled to go to France on Sunday for a three-day trip that will also take him to Britain. These will be his first meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown since they took office earlier this year.
Livni is scheduled to go to China later this month and lobby for a more supportive position from the Chinese leadership regarding sanctions. The UN Security Council's five permanent members are Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States.
President Shimon Peres, meanwhile, voiced agreement Thursday with comments US President George W. Bush made a day earlier that a nuclear Iran could trigger World War III.
Iran was the only nation in the world, Peres said, that threatened the existence of other nations. He said the Iranian problem had reached new heights "because Iran has the clear ambition to become a new empire with hegemony all over the Middle East and the Muslim people."
Peres accused Ahmadinejad of wanting to revive imperialism and of supporting global terrorism. He also compared him to Hitler, Stalin and Saddam Hussein.
Had the world opposed those three tyrants in time, Peres said, "it would have prevented untold needless bloodshed." There was no need for bloodshed against or from Iran, he said, if the international community took a united position.
Regarding Iran's claims that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, Peres said no one spent so many millions of dollars on long-range missiles if they are meant for conventional weapons.
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.