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Associates of Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the prime minister-designate, said yesterday Kadima would hold on to the finance portfolio during coalition talks due to begin next week.

If there was no choice, the sources said, the Defense Ministry could go to the Labor Party. The Olmert associates made no commitment about the education portfolio, which Ariel Sharon had promised Kadima official Uriel Reichman, saying, "We'll wait and see how it develops in negotiations."

"A combination of the social laws and the portfolios that the partners - especially the Labor Party - will demand pose difficulties on the way to the coalition, but everything is solvable," one of the sources said.

Olmert prefers a government made up of Kadima (28 seats), Labor (20), the ultra-Orthodox (13 from Shas and 6 from United Torah Judaism) and the Pensioners Party (7), the Olmert associates said. They rejected both the Likud and the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu as possible coalition partners.

Meretz has not been ruled out, but it is likely to remain outside the coalition, the sources said. "We can bring Meretz in if Shas quits on the eve of the implementation of the convergence plan," they said.

Olmert plans to spend his first year as prime minister dealing with social issues. His aides said yesterday that Olmert doesn't need Labor or Shas to spur him on, since he had planned to contend with those issues as soon as he took office.

U.S. President George W. Bush called Olmert yesterday to congratulate him on his victory and invite him to Washington as soon as he had formed a government. Bush also said he respects Kadima's victory, calling it particularly impressive considering Kadima is a new party.

Olmert told Bush he plans to form a broad coalition quickly, and that he wants to continue in Sharon's footsteps and make progress on the political front. Bush said he admires Sharon's vision and thinks he acted courageously in pulling out of Gaza.

Olmert also agreed to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after the new government is formed, and received congratulatory calls from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and new Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper. Olmert told Merkel he would bring into the coalition those who agree with his political path.