Olmert convening former PMs to talk about Iran

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to convene the first meeting of the "ex-prime ministers" club Monday to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue and how best to deal with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Olmert and opposition head Binyamin Netanyahu last month agreed to the establishment of this informal forum to discuss sensitive security issues, like Iran. Three of the five living former prime ministers - Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres - are expected to take part along with Olmert, while 90-year-old Yitzhak Shamir will not and Ariel Sharon remains in a comatose state. Netanyahu said last month that since each of the prime ministers had dealt with the Iranian issue from different angles, integrating their knowledge and experience could help Olmert deal with the threat. One source in the Prime Minister's Office said that there was no particular reason for the meeting to be held Monday and that it was not tied to any immediate new developments on the Iranian nuclear issue. The source said that beyond Olmert's desire to tap into the experience of the former prime ministers, there was also a political component to the issue: These meetings would be a way for Olmert to build a national consensus on how to deal with Iran and to neutralize any possible future criticism of the government's Iran policy by Netanyahu. Peres, meanwhile, met over the weekend with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as with leaders from both Azerbaijan and Tajikistan, at a security conference in Kazakhstan. One of the focuses of the talks was Iran, and Peres, according to sources in his office, was expected to brief Olmert, Barak and Netanyahu on the Azerbaijani and Tajik take on Ahmadinejad. Peres has taken a relatively hard line on Iran. He said in Kazakhstan that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran would lead to the nuclearization of the region and nuclear "spillage" to terrorist organizations. As a result, he warned, every international conflict will have the potential of turning nuclear. Peres is expected to repeat at this meeting his position that Israel does not need to lead the battle to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but should clearly makes its voice heard regarding Iran's genocidal threat to wipe Israel off the map. He is also expected to say that Israel needs to ensure that Iran does not succeed in framing this issue as an Israeli-Iranian one. Netanyahu intends to report to the prime minister on his meetings over the weekend at the American Enterprise Institute conference in Boulder, Colorado. Netanyahu spoke at great length on the Iranian issue with US Vice President Dick Cheney. Representatives from Arab countries at the conference compared Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons with that of communist countries and suggested that obtaining such weapons does not guarantee that they would be used. Netanyahu disagreed and said that it is forbidden that radical Islam acquire nuclear know-how, because the Iranians would use the weapons. Barak's spokeswoman said he would not reveal in advance what he would say in the closed forum. But in a recent interview, he said that although a nuclear Iran with its current government threatens the world, there may eventually be a political upheaval in Iran. "I strongly believe that in five years from now, the ayatollahs will not rule over Iran - probably earlier - and I still remember that Iran had never participated in a direct war against Israel and that the Iranian people and regime were our best friends in the Middle East just a generation ago," Barak said. "I suggest we consider very carefully, with far-sighted perspective, any concrete opposition to be taken or shaped vis-a-vis Iran."