PM in Russia for Talks on Road Map, Iran's Nuclear Program

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Russia on Sunday afternoon, on a three-day trip to discuss Iran's nuclear program and Moscow's plans for the internationally-brokered road map for Middle East peace.

The head of military intelligence told a parliamentary committee last week that, if unchecked, Iran would be self-sufficient in its nuclear weapons capability by the summer of 2004.

Iran has pledged to open its nuclear program to unfettered inspections and to suspend uranium enrichment. But Israeli officials fear that Iran is continuing to covertly acquire nuclear arms know-how, at least some of it from countries of the former Soviet Union, possibly including Russia.

The prime minister was expected to ask Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow stop further deliveries of nuclear equipment to Iran.

Sharon will also try to persuade Putin to drop plans to turn the road map into a United Nations Security Council Resolution for Middle East peace.

A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that Israel considered the United Nations a hostile forum and deepening its involvement would hinder, rather than help, peace efforts.

"We adamantly object to this and we shall try to dissuade President Putin from this idea," he said.

Israel objected to the road map and only accepted it in principle after the government added 14 reservations that essentially placed the onus for getting the plan started on the Palestinian Authority dismantling the militant groups behind terrorist attacks that have claimed the lives of hundreds of Israelis in the past three years of violence.

There was also likely to be discussion on counter-terrorism and joint defense sales projects, such as the recent sale to India of Russian-made surveillance planes outfitted with Israeli-made advanced radar systems, the official said.

A Russian diplomat in Tel Aviv said he had no information on the likely agenda.

Sharon's trip is his third to Russia since becoming prime minister. He will also meet with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Russian Jewish leaders.

He is accompanied by Immigration and Absorption Minister Tzipi Livni and Russian-born Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who heads the Israel-Russia Economic Council.