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Olmert Heads to US to Gauge Post-Election Policy
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Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with US President George W. Bush today, seeking a post-election picture of US policy towards Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

His visit comes in the wake of mid-term elections which have seen huge losses for Bush's Republican party.

"It is the right time... to exchange views with the president on what is expected in the coming two years," Olmert said before leaving Israel.

"The main subjects will be the situation in the Middle East and the Iranian issue," he told reporters, referring to Tehran's nuclear program, which the US says could lead to the development of atomic weapons.

Israel, widely believed to be the only country in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons, fears a nuclear Iran would pose a threat to its existence.

Iran, whose president has called for the Jewish state's destruction, says it intends to use its uranium enrichment program for electricity generation.

Olmert told reporters traveling with him that Iran needed to fear the consequences of not heeding international demands over its nuclear program.

"If someone wants to reach a compromise with Iran he must understand that Iran won't be ready to do so unless it is afraid," Olmert said.

Iran said on Sunday its Revolutionary Guards would respond swiftly if Israel attacked the Islamic Republic.

"If Israel takes such a stupid step and attacks, the answer of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard will be rapid, firm and destructive and it will be given in a few seconds," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a news conference.

Last week's mid-term US election demonstrated the deep popular dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq, but also raised speculation in Israel that Bush could try to cap his two-term presidency with progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Olmert heaped praise on moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week, calling him "upfront, decent and against terror," in an apparent signal that he would be the focus of any new US or Israeli peace efforts.

"The Palestinian issue is on the agenda. There is no way we can ignore it. We have to find the best partner," said Olmert.

In the Newsweek interview, Olmert said the recent inclusion of a far-right politician into his cabinet would not alter his position toward the Palestinians. "You can read my lips. I'm ready for territorial compromises, and I haven't changed my mind," he said.

But any moves on the Palestinian front would likely require a remake of the government headed by Hamas, an Islamist group that has rejected demands by the US and other peace brokers to change its position towards Israel.

Ahead of Olmert's visit to the United States, the US on Saturday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning an Israeli attack in Gaza that killed 19 Palestinian civilians and urged a quick withdrawal of Israeli forces.

The measure, proposed by Qatar and backed by Arab, Islamic and nonaligned nations, would have called on the Palestinian Authority to end violence, urged the international community to take steps to stabilise the situation, and condemned Israeli military operations in Gaza, calling on the Jewish state to withdraw troops.

Nine of the council's 15 members voted for the measure, while four abstained.

But the "no" vote cast by US Ambassador John Bolton, his second since he arrived at UN headquarters a little over a year ago, was enough to kill the resolution.

But Bolton said the US was "disturbed at the language of the resolution which is in many places biased against Israel and politically motivated."

The suggestion of a mechanism to protect civilians would raise false hopes, he said, adding that he was disturbed the measure made no mention of Palestine's Hamas government, which refuses to acknowledge Israel's right to exist.

(China Daily November 13, 2006)


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