Olmert open for dialogue with Russia

October 18, 2006

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Moscow to speak with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The visit underlined Russia’s importance in the region and the credibility that the Israeli leader lends to his Russian counterpart. On his way to the Russian capital, Olmert made it clear that he is “unaware” of Russian nuclear technology being leaked to Iran. At the press conference after the two-and-a-half hour meeting (as reported by Russian press agencies), Olmert urged Russian participation in resolving the Iranian situation. Olmert believes that Israel cannot allow Iran to develop Nuclear weapons and Russian support is necessary in this regard. Not only has Russia has been completing Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr, it has also not bowed to American and Israeli pressure to impose sanctions on Iran. Without a doubt, this is for economic reasons as the Bushehr deal is worth a reported 800 million dollars.

At the press conference, Olmert made clear that Putin “deeply understands all problems” of the Middle East. Putin, on the other hand, spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need for coming to an immediate solution

Russia has long been a critic of Israel, a legacy of the bipolar world of the Cold War — the US supporting Israel, and the Soviets siding with the Palestinians. This visit is indicative of the change of tone that has occurred with Putin’s presidency, which has seen increased Israeli and Russian cooperation. However, Russia has not stopped its proactive role in promoting Palestinian rights. Israel, too, has increasingly been more open to dialogue with the Palestinian Authority. In fact, Olmert said in Moscow that he informed President Putin that he hopes to meet with Palestinian leader Abbas as soon as possible. Olmert was also satisfied with Putin’s friendly attitude to Israel and Israeli security, indicating the rapprochement of the two countries.

All this to say, that Russia will continue to play an integral part in the Middlea East peace process. The formula of Camp David does not seem to be likely repeated, as Israel seems content on having a regional player like Russia involved (as opposed to just the US). A good indication of this is Olmert’s invitation of Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov to Israel, an invitation that was accepted today.

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