Olmert urges Bibi to form gov't quickly

During cabinet meeting, PM congratulates Likud leader on being appointed to build the new coalition.

olmert livni laugh cabinet 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
olmert livni laugh cabinet 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
A week after coming out in favor of Kadima leader Tzipi Livni in the race for the premiership, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Sunday congratulated Likud leader and prime minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu and urged him to form a coalition as quickly as possible. "It's vital that a new government is formed quickly," Olmert said at the weekly cabinet meeting, calling on all those involved in coalition talks to "conduct them quickly and efficiently." The outgoing prime minister indicated that the country required a unity government. "As one who is aware of the range of issues on the agenda and of the tough decisions down the road, I believe Israel needs a strong, stable government that reflects the will of the people and that will win its trust, in order to deal with the problems in the diplomatic, security and socioeconomic arenas," he said. The Likud chairman met with Livni and Labor chairman Ehud Barak in an effort to form a national unity government on Sunday, after President Shimon Peres officially appointed him to build a coalition on Friday. At the cabinet meeting, Olmert stressed that "until a new coalition is formed, the current government will continue to conduct state affairs with full responsibility, even in this transitional period. "At the same time, we are ready for an orderly transfer of power," he added. Olmert congratulated Netanyahu on being entrusted with the "complex" task of forming a coalition. "As one who was involved in forming coalitions and governments for decades, I am aware not only of the complexity of the task but also of its urgency and its importance," he said. "Forming a coalition is, in effect, laying the foundations upon which Israel will stand in the coming years. I would therefore like to congratulate MK Binyamin Netanyahu and wish him success." Olmert also said he feels "regret, sorrow and disapproval" for a comedy show that mocked Christian theology and offended the Vatican. Government spokesman Mark Regev said Olmert told ministers the comedy segment was "in stark contrast" to good relations between Israel and Christians worldwide. Broadcast recently on a late-night show on Channel 10, the segment mocked the belief that Mary was a virgin and that Jesus walked on water. The skit was a sarcastic response to the Vatican's rehabilitation of a Catholic bishop who denied the Holocaust took place. The host later apologized for causing offense. The Vatican issued a statement Friday calling the segment a "vulgar and offensive act of intolerance." Also speaking at the cabinet meeting, Defense Minister Ehud Barak referred to two recent International Atomic Energy Agency reports which found that samples taken from a Syrian site suspected of being a secretly built reactor revealed new traces of processed uranium, and that Iran's efforts to expand its uranium enrichment program had significantly slowed down. "The IAEA report about the Iranian nuclear activity and the results of the tests it carried out on the nuclear reactor that was bombed in Dir al-Zur illustrate again the need for effective international pressure in order to stop Iran's nuclear program and the importance of Israel's stance that no option should be removed from the table," he said. Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.