Olmert heads to Washington for farewell meeting with outgoing Bush

PM plans to discuss Iran and Syria as well as other regional issues.

olmert 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Under the cloud of an increasing Iranian nuclear threat and escalating violence in Gaza, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert heads to Washington Saturday to part from outgoing President George W. Bush. When Olmert meets with Bush on Monday he plans to discuss Iran and Syria as well as other regional issues. Olmert will also update Bush on the continued bilateral talks that he has been holding with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom he met prior to his departure. Olmert also held a conversation with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and met with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday. Olmert and Abbas plan to meet again upon Olmert's return. "The prime minister will keep working until his last day in office to make sure that he can transfer to the next prime minister the best possible situation in the peace process and the best possible situation with respect to Israel's security challenges," said Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev. The three governments had hoped to announce a peace deal by the end of the year, but prospects of that faded as little progress was made amid challenges from Hamas and Olmert's involvement in a corruption scandal which forced him to announce his resignation. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the region recently, but acknowledged along with the White House that a deal wouldn't be complete by the time the Bush administration left office. State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood, speaking when Olmert's trip was first announced, did say however that the visit would be "important for trying to move this process... forward" despite the fact that "it's not an easy process." Referring to the team of Israeli and Palestinian leaders who have supported negotiations when their countrymen haven't always been willing to come to the table, he added, "We're there to try to do what we can to help the parties get to where they want to go." White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino on Thursday simply said that Bush "looks forward to discussing with the prime minister the strong bilateral relationship between the United States and Israel, our continuing, mutual efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and a wide range of regional and international issues." The meeting, which was initiated by Bush, is likely to be their last while still the leaders of their respective countries. Bush's term expires in mid-January and Israeli elections will be held the following month. "The prime minister welcomes this opportunity to meet with the president and to express his most sincere appreciation for the eight years of American friendship and American support for the state of Israel," said Regev. "The prime minister believes firmly that George Bush is not only a friend of Israel, he also views the president as a personal friend," Regev added. While in Washington, Olmert plans to meet with other top American officials including Rice, Vice President Richard Cheney and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. He will also visit with members of Congress and Jewish community leaders. Olmert is not expected to meet President-elect Barack Obama. Olmert spoke with Senator John McCain on Thursday, thanking him for everything he has done for Israel. Olmert said he hoped they would continue to work together during McCain's time in the Senate and invited him to visit Israel. According to Yediot Aharonot, Olmert is likely to ask Bush to pardon Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the United States on charges of spying for Israel in the 1980s. Among the items is passed on to Israel was information on Iraq's missile program. Regev said he couldn't comment on the report.