Igor Ivanov, the head of Russia's National Security Council and one of the Kremlin's leading figures in regard to the Iranian nuclear issue, arrived in Israel Tuesday for talks expected to focus on Teheran.
Ivanov met with National Security Council head Ilan Mizrahi on Tuesday, and is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday.
There are conflicting accounts of whether he will meet Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as well, something that fueled speculation he may meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Russia, unlike the US or EU, meets with Hamas leaders, and has invited Damascus-based Hamas head Khaled Mashaal to visit Moscow twice in the last year - once following Hamas's victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections, and again following the Mecca agreement between Hamas and Fatah.
Israel, however, has indicated that its top officials will not meet on the same visit with foreign diplomats who meet Hamas members of the new PA unity government. Last month Foreign Ministry director-general Aharon Abramovitch declined to meet Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen after Johansen met Haniyeh.
A senior Russian diplomatic official denied that Ivanov would be meeting Haniyeh or any other Hamas official during his two-day visit, and also said a meeting with Olmert was scheduled. Officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the meeting had been taken off the schedule, but gave no reason for the change.
In addition to meeting Mizrahi, Ivanov met with the families of kidnapped soldiers Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.
Ivanov and Olmert developed what diplomatic sources described as a "good" working relationship when Ivanov was Russia's foreign minister and Olmert was deputy prime minister and industry and trade minister under Ariel Sharon.
Diplomatic sources said Ivanov visits Israel once or twice a year, and this visit is part of an ongoing dialogue between the Israeli and Russian National Security Councils. The sources said this visit was planned some two months ago, and was not connected to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's announcement Monday that Iran was capable of enriching nuclear fuel "on an industrial scale." Both Israeli and Russian officials have disputed Ahmadinejad's claim.