The curbing of the Iranian nuclear threat and ways to resuscitate the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process will dominate the agenda at tomorrow's meeting in Washington between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and U.S. President George W. Bush.
Olmert's statements about Iran prior to his departure for the U.S. last night took on harsher tones, hinting for the first time at the possibility of Israeli military action.
Meanwhile, the prime minister's statements with regard to the Palestinians became more flexible, with a pledge to release "many, many prisoners," and support territorial compromise.
After the Washington leg of his trip, during which he will also meet with administration and congressional leaders, Olmert will head for Los Angeles to speak at the General Assembly (GA) of the United Jewish Communities.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Bureau said there would be no "great dramas" at the Washington meetings, and the purpose of Olmert's trip was mainly to thank the Jewish communities for funds raised during and after the recent war in Lebanon. They described the goal of the meetings as to exchange ideas and give a "small push" to the Iranian issue.
A senior government source said Olmert would be discussing with Bush the creation of an international coalition against Iran and would try to "reach understandings best kept quiet."
The source said Olmert would also ask the U.S. to make sure the Palestinians stuck to the principles of the Quartet - the demand that any Palestinian government recognize Israel and previous agreements and renounce violence. The source said Olmert would not be presenting a new position vis-a-vis the Palestinians.
On his previous visit to the U.S. in May, Olmert presented Bush with the convergence plan, which has since been taken off the agenda.
According to other sources in Israel, the U.S. State Department is talking about "revising" its Middle Eastern policy, and considering ideas for partial implementation of the road map, such as operating the border crossings, a withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from its positions in the West Bank and evacuation of illegal outposts. However, these ideas are said not to be acceptable to the White House.
In an interview appearing today in Newsweek and the Washington Post, Olmert said "I'm ready for territorial compromises, and I haven't changed my mind."
He also said that the policies of his government had not changed due to Avigdor Lieberman's joining the cabinet. Olmert avoided answering the question of whether the U.S. had asked him to release jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, and would say only "I made it clear long ago that I am anxious to open up a new dialogue with Abu Mazen, and for that purpose, I'm ready to release many prisoners. Hamas' extreme inflexible attitude prevents the prisoners from being released because they refuse to let us have our soldier [Gilad Shalit].... Hamas is not really interested in the well-being of its prisoners. They want to topple Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas] at any cost."
Olmert reiterated his obligation to the "vision which I share with President Bush" of a two-state solution, and said that following the war in Lebanon and the failure of the Palestinians to deal with terror, "I have second thoughts about the ability to accomplish the two-state solution through realignment. It [realignment] is definitely not dead, but it has to be reexamined. One thing I can promise: Under no circumstances am I going to withdraw from the need to engage in a serious dialogue with the Palestinians."
Olmert praised the Arab countries in the interview, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on their position during the war, noting "in the past, the Saudis have expressed some ideas about a possible solution in the Middle East."
The prime minister compared Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler, calling Ahmadinejad "a man who is ready to commit crimes against humanity" and noting "he has to be stopped."
"My position is clear," the prime minister said regarding Iran. "If there can be a compromise that will stop Iran short of crossing the technological threshold that will lead them into nuclear capabilities, we will be for such a compromise. But I don't believe that Iran will accept such compromise unless they have a very good reason to fear the consequences of not reaching it. In other words, Iran must start to fear."
When asked what he thought could be done about Iran, Olmert said, "I can think of many different measures. The guideline has to be that this government and the people of Iran must understand that if they do not accept the request of the international community, they're going to pay dearly."
When asked whether he would not rule out a military option, he answered,"I think my words were clear enough."
With regard to a lack of action on the part of the international community leading to Israel's considering a military option, Olmert said, "it is absolutely intolerable for Israel to accept the threat of a nuclear Iran. I prefer not to discuss the Israeli options. Israel has many options."
Olmert called the war in Lebanon a "strategic, military and political success" for Israel, adding, "I know for sure through different sources that Hezbollah was close to total surrender."
Olmert is also expected to raise in his discussions with Bush and senior administration officials the enforcement of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and the completion of the arms embargo against Hezbollah.
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