Putin Olmert 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
"Russia is taking steps together with other members of the international negotiations to solve the [Iran nuclear] problem through peaceful means in the interests of the international community and the Iranian people," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in his annual televised question-and-answer phone-in on Thursday ahead of his scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"Threats against Iran, Putin continued, are "harmful for international relations because dialogue with states ... is always more promising. It is a shorter route toward success than a policy of threats, sanctions and, even less so, armed pressure."
Olmert's lightning visit to Moscow comes a day after the Russian leader's return from the trip to Teheran in which he warned outside powers not to attack Iran and said there was no evidence it was developing nuclear arms.
Earlier Thursday, Al-Hayat reported that the two leaders would discuss the issue of the IDF soldiers held by Hamas and Hizbullah.
A Kremlin source told the London-based newspaper that Putin and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad debated the subject of the captive troops during the Russian president's trip to Iran on Tuesday.
The newspaper also claimed it was likely that following the deal reached Monday between Israel and Hizbullah over the transfer of drowned Israeli Gavriel Daweet, new information had been received regarding captured soldiers Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and missing IAF navigator Ron Arad.
Meanwhile, Al-Watan reported that Israel and Hizbullah were extremely close to reaching an agreement which would secure the release of Regev and Goldwasser.
The Saudi newspaper quoted European sources connected to the prisoner swap negotiations as saying that the deal had reached "boiling point," and that that both sides were showing determination to reach an agreement and a willingness to back down from some of their demands.
The UN mediator responsible for securing a prisoner swap deal between Israel and Hizbullah is reportedly set to meet senior Hizbullah officials in Lebanon. "The negotiations will be difficult and will be conducted in stages," the sources were quoted as saying.
While the Prime Minister's Office tried to disconnect Olmert's Moscow trip from Putin's statements in Iran, it was clear from the snap manner in which the meeting at the Kremlin was organized and announced that the Iranian nuclear issue would dominate the discussion.
Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu telephoned Olmert before his trip and urged him to tell Putin that "in Israel we are all united in the belief that Iran must not obtain nuclear arms."
Netanyahu told Olmert: "On this issue Israel has no coalition and opposition."
According to the Prime Minister's Office, which only announced the upcoming meeting Wednesday, Olmert will fly with a small number of advisers to Moscow in the late morning, meet Putin and return to Israel in the evening. He is not taking any journalists with him.
This is the first time in years that a prime minister has traveled for a one-day visit to a country other than Egypt, Jordan or Turkey.
Olmert is expected to try to gauge whether there has been a substantial shift in Russia's position on the Iranian nuclear issue since last year, when - following his previous visit to Moscow last October - Israeli officials said there was no significant difference between the US and Russia on the need to keep Teheran from gaining nuclear capability.
The difference, the official said at the time, was one of tactics only, a position now called into question by Putin's visit to Iran and his statements there.
Olmert's office said Wednesday that the two men would discuss a range of regional issues, including the diplomatic process with the Palestinians and Iran's nuclear program. However, Prime Minister's Office officials dismissed speculation that the surprise visit was in any way related to efforts to secure the release of captive IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, saying that the Russians were not involved in that process.
According to the Prime Minister's Office, the Olmert-Putin meeting follows a phone conversation the two men had last week, in which they discussed the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. Government officials did not rule out that in the wake of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's intensive shuttle diplomacy in the region over the last few days, the Moscow meeting was also meant to keep the Russians "in the loop" and ensure that they did not feel they are being left out of the diplomatic process.
Putin has said that he would like to convene a Middle East peace conference in Moscow.
The two were also expected to discuss Israel's air strike on Syria last month.
In a related development, the Syrian Foreign Ministry denied that its ambassador at the UN admitted at a disarmament meeting on Tuesday that Israel had targeted a nuclear facility in his country.
The Foreign Ministry's deputy director-general for strategic affairs, Miriam Ziv, reported back to the ministry on Wednesday that the Syrian envoy had made the admission at a meeting on disarmament and international security.
According to a report of that meeting posted on the UN Web site, the Syrian envoy said "Israel was the fourth-largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations' airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the July 6 attack in Syria."
The attack took place on September 6, not July 6.
On Wednesday, the Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, quoting a Foreign Ministry source, "denied some media reports claiming that the Syrian ambassador in New York has said Israel raided a nuclear facility on the 6th of September, because such facilities do not exist in Syria."
Syrian President Bashar Assad said earlier this month that the air force had hit an "unused military building."
At UN headquarters in New York, the spokesman's office said the Syrian representative spoke in Arabic.
After several hours, UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq said the exact words of the English interpreter were: "An entity that is the fourth-largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction in the world, an entity that violates other countries' airspace, and that takes action against nuclear facilities, including the attack on July 6 this year on a nuclear facility in my country - that entity has no right to lie, which it has done consistently."
But after six hours, the UN said it was still studying whether that was the correct translation of the original Arabic spoken by the Syrian representative.