President Shimon Peres said Thursday that world intelligence agencies have proof that Tehran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
Peres issued a statement ahead of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's surprise visit to Russia saying, "Even if [Russian President Validimir] Putin says he is not convinced that Iran is conducting nuclear development for the purpose of war, everyone knows their true intentions, and many intelligence agencies throughout the world have proof that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons for the purpose of war and death."
Putin, awaiting Olmert's arrival earlier Thursday, said that direct dialogue was a better way of easing the diplomatic crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions than the threat of military force or sanctions.
Putin, speaking at an annual question-and-answer session, brushed aside a reported plot to assassinate him during his visit to Tehran earlier this week.
"Direct dialogue with the leaders of states around which certain problems accumulate is always more productive and is the shortest path to success, rather than a policy of threats, sanctions, and all the more so resolution by using force," he said.
Olmert's surprise trip came as Israel was preparing to launch a new diplomatic effort to lobby United Nations Security Council members for tougher sanctions on Iran.
On Sunday, Olmert is to travel to Paris, where he will talk with President Nicolas Sarkozy about ways to halt the Iranian nuclear program. Olmert will continue to London on Tuesday and for talks with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Israel pushes to tighten sanctions on Iran
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Wednesday called for a new Security Council resolution aimed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. She is planning a lightning visit to China - which objects to expanding the sanctions against Iran - to explain Israel's position on the issue.
In announcing the Moscow trip on Wednesday, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said Olmert would stress the need to keep up pressure on Iran to stop enriching uranium, which Tehran maintains is for civilian use but the West fears is for nuclear weapons.
The London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat speculated that the two leaders could discuss the issue of abducted Israel Defense Forces reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, seized by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006. Quoting sources in Moscow, the newspaper said the issue was also raised during Putin's visit to Tehran.
"We must not underestimate Iran's statements about annihilating Israel or moving it to Alaska," Olmert said Wednesday at a gathering of dozens of mayors from around the world.
"Sometimes we don't take [Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statements] seriously, but we must not forget who is making them. He is the president of a state with a population of 70 million, which has military and technological capabilities and advanced weapons," Olmert said.
The PMO said that "the prime minister intends to discuss with the Russian president a series of regional issues, including the peace process with the Palestinians and Iran's threats and its attempt to equip itself with nuclear weapons."
Last Wednesday, Olmert called Putin and told him he wanted to speak to him face-to-face about the developments in the talks about the Iranian nuclear project. Putin agreed and invited Olmert to Moscow. The two leaders' bureaus coordinated Thursday's visit over the last few days.
Olmert took a small group of advisers with him - his chief of staff, Yoram Turbowicz; diplomatic adviser Shalom Turgeman; military secretary Meir Kalifi; and media adviser Yaakov Galanti.
Olmert's visit follows the delay in a Security Council move to impose new sanctions on Iran, which Israel believes stems from Russia and China's objection to imposing more sanctions. Putin, who visited Tehran on Tuesday, said he supported Iran's right to develop nuclear technology. Israel believes Iran could complete uranium enrichment by 2009.
Putin to PM last year: Nuclear Iran not in Russia's interest
Putin promised Olmert during the latter's previous visit to Moscow about a year ago that a nuclear Iran was not in Russia's interest. Olmert will try to persuade Putin that only cooling relations with Iran and imposing sanctions will change Tehran's approach toward the nuclear project.
However, Jerusalem sources said Wednesday that Olmert believed Putin was sincere about the Iranian nuclear program, and that Russia objects to Iran's having nuclear weapons.
Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news conference with Livni in Jerusalem on Wednesday that at her meeting with Putin a few days ago, she understood that he was still interested in preventing Iran from possessing nuclear weapons.
"I believe he is committed to the diplomatic course, which will lead to stopping Iran," she said.
"If we don't receive positive reports about the Iranian position we will advance toward an additional Security Council resolution," she said.
Israel and the U.S. are expected to start a strategic dialogue in Washington in November on Iran's nuclear threat. The Israeli team will be headed by Minister Shaul Mofaz and the sides will discuss ways of exerting pressure on Iran outside the Security Council.
Iran: Bush's nuclear warning endangers international peace
Iran on Thursday denounced a warning by U.S. President George W. Bush that the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities could lead to World War III, saying the statement was war-like rhetoric geared at diverting U.S. attention from White House failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The expression by the U.S. president will eventually cause international insecurity. This sort of policy will jeopardize peace and security at the international level, and is a barrier for peace, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said in a statement.
In a press conference on Wednesday, President Bush warned that a nuclear Iran could ignite a world war.
"I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon," Bush said.
Tensions are high between Iran and the U.S. over Washington's allegations that Tehran is secretly trying to develop nuclear bombs and supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with deadly weapons that kill U.S. troops. Iran denies both claims.
Iran and the U.S cut off diplomatic relations in 1979 after Iranian militant students seized the U.S. Embassy and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days during the country's Islamic Revolution.