Olmert looks to strengthen Russian ties

Despite Moscow's aid to Iran and invitation to Hamas, acting PM pushes on.

katsav, russia FM 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
katsav, russia FM 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
With Russia offering to enrich Iranian uranium, a move that could keep the Iranian nuclear issue from reaching the UN Security Council, and on the eve of a visit to Moscow by a Hamas delegation, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that Russia was an "important country" with which it was necessary to improve relations. Olmert's comments came at a meeting he convened with senior Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry and National Security Council officials to discuss Israeli-Russian relations at a time when Russia is pursuing a policy both with regards to Hamas and Iran that is widely seen in Jerusalem as running contrary to Israeli interests. The Prime Minister's Office released a statement after the deliberations, characterized by one participant as "secret," quoting Olmert as saying that Israel's bilateral relations with Russia were important, and that "ways must be found both to improve them and to enhance the understandings between the two countries." The way to do this, one diplomatic official said was through quiet diplomacy. "We need to keep a low profile," the official said. "We need to send emissaries to Moscow, we need to coordinate with the US and bring pressure on Russia quietly so that they fallow the international community's position both on Iran and on Hamas." The official said that Israel believed that even if the Russians enrich uranium for the Iranians, the Iranian dossier should still be brought to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions to prevent the Iranians from pursing a secret nuclear program. Regarding Hamas, there is concern in Jerusalem that the meeting between Russian and Hamas representatives in Moscow will confer the type of legitimization on the organization that Israel is trying to prevent. A Hamas delegation led by Khaled Mashaal is scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Friday. The delegation will not meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Ministry Tzipi Livni had intended to visit Russia in early March, but that visit - which was never finalized - has now been put off until after the elections. Foreign Ministry officials denied that the postponement was due to the disagreements between the two countries, but speculation remained that she did not want to visit the Russian capital while Hamas officials were there. Olmert, according to a statement released by his office, said at Tuesday's meeting that in recent days he received "positive messages regarding bilateral relations" from Putin and that he intended to "advance and tighten his personal dialogue with the Russian President." Olmert, who has met Putin several times and sat in on the meeting Putin had here last year with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the Russian president was a "friend of Israel who would not act against Israel's interests." He said Israel "has an interest in advancing improved relations with Russia and in enhancing the ongoing bilateral dialogue on all levels in order to reach common understandings on issues on the agenda." Foreign Ministry officials denied that Tuesday's meeting was rare, and said that such meetings take place periodically. Russian officials, meanwhile, said they welcomed this type of discussion, saying they hoped the Israeli government would pay more attention to the relationship with Russia.