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Olmert Visits US to Discuss W. Bank, Iran
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prepared Monday for his first talks with US President George W. Bush that were expected to focus on the Israeli leader's plans to redraw Israel's recognized borders.

Olmert arrived in the US capital on Sunday and planned to hold talks Monday evening (local time) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice focusing on the stalled peace process with the Palestinians as well as Iran's nuclear program.

The prime minister, who is scheduled to meet Bush at the White House on Tuesday local time, will seek to bolster the Jewish state's relations with its chief ally, which are instrumental in his ambitious plan to redraw the map of the Middle East.

"The main purpose of this visit is for the two leaders to get to know and understand each other better," said a senior US administration official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.

In a similar way to his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, who led the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip, Olmert will use his visit to "show himself as a reliable and serious leader who can implement historic moves," a senior Israeli government official said.

The newly-elected premier has vowed to dismantle dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank by 2010 in order to assure Israel's defensible and viable borders.

But in turn he wants to cement control over the big housing blocs where the vast majority of the quarter of a million settlers live with or without agreement from the Palestinians.

Despite his determination to push forward with his plan, Olmert will assure the US administration that his government was determined to hold talks with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmud Abbas before turning to unilateral steps.

"Olmert will open negotiation channels with Abbas, but they will be measured in months," the official said. "He needs to convince himself, the US and the Arab states that such an option has been exhausted."

(China Daily May 23, 2006)


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