Olmert wants to generate 'final tailwind' on Syria, says aide
PM embarks on final visit to Washington; meet with Bush also to focus on Palestinians, Iran.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert began a visit to Washington on Sunday to bid farewell to President George W. Bush before the two lame-duck leaders leave office without the Palestinian statehood deal they had sought.
An aide to the outgoing prime minister said that besides taking stock of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Olmert's talks with Bush would also focus on Iran's nuclear program and indirect negotiations Israel has been holding with Syria.
"The prime minister wants to generate a final tailwind for the Syrian track," one of the aides said on condition of anonymity.
A report compiled by Olmert's National Security Council and published in part in Haaretz on Sunday said Israel should pursue a U.S.-backed breakthrough in talks with Syria next year to help contain threats from Iran's nuclear program.
The report argues for "paying the heavy price" of an accord with Syria - the return of the occupied Golan Heights.
As his term winds down, Olmert has been increasingly vocal about what he sees as the need for Israel to relinquish nearly all of the land conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War in return for peace, while retaining major settlement blocs.
The United States, Israel and the Palestinians have all acknowledged they will not have a peace accord in place before Bush vacates the White House in January, missing a target date set at the Annapolis peace conference a year ago this week.
Bush and Olmert meet on Monday, and the Israeli leader flies home the next day after seeing U.S. Jewish leaders.
No major announcements are expected, but a spokesman for Olmert said, "When the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel get together, they always have serious matters to discuss."
Olmert, who resigned in September in a corruption scandal, remains prime minister until a new government is formed after Israel's February 1O parliamentary election.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Sunday that, "Even though there was not an agreement by the end of the year, it is really largely because of the political situation in Israel."
"Still, she tried to sound upbeat about the peace process. It's in pretty good shape, said Rice, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Bush returned from a summit in Peru.
Although Olmert has pledged to pursue peace until his last day in office, public interest in Israel in his policies and administration has waned as the election campaign gathered speed.
Only one Israeli journalist, a correspondent for state-owned Israel Television, traveled on Olmert's plane on the flight from Tel Aviv to Washington. About a dozen Israeli reporters usually accompany him on U.S. visits.
Opinion polls in Israel show former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party leading ruling centrist Kadima faction in the election.=
Netanyahu has said he would focus peace efforts with the Palestinians on shoring up their economy rather than on territorial issues.
Olmert's successor as Kadima leader, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, meanwhile, has not climbed on the bandwagon of a full retreat to the 1967 borders.