Lebanon, Iran Top Olmert's Agenda on Visit to Germany, Italy

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to depart this afternoon for a visit to Germany and Italy, where his talks will center on developments in Lebanon following the war and the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program.

Olmert will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel tomorrow and on Wednesday will meet with his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, and with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican.

In Berlin, Olmert will discuss the two Israeli reservists abducted by Hezbollah in July, the Prime Minister's Office said yesterday. Germany has played the role of mediator in the past, and has also been involved in current efforts.

Olmert will also talk about the conduct of the multinational peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, in which German units are participating, as well as efforts to limit the flow of smuggled weapons from Syria to Hezbollah.

In his talks with Merkel and other German officials over the Iranian nuclear program, Olmert will bring up the economic links between German firms and Iran.

In an interview on a German television station, Olmert said that "the economic interest of private businessmen in Iran should not be allowed to influence political decisions on the issue of Iran."

Another subject that is expected to be raised is the Palestinian question, particularly in view of the fact that Germany is assuming the rotating presidency of the European Union in January, and will represent the EU in the Quartet (consisting of the U.S., the UN, Russia and the EU).

During his meeting with Merkel, Olmert is expected to reiterate the main points of his Sde Boker address, in which he delineated the terms under which Israel is willing to relinquish territory and contribute to the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.

The prime minister will also stress Israel is serious about embarking on a diplomatic process with the Palestinians.

A senior diplomatic source in Germany told Haaretz that "time is against us and we need to revive the road map," referring to the Bush administration's initiative for a two-state solution in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sources at the Prime Minister's Office said the German chancellor is considered to be the European leader closest to Olmert and pointed out that the two leaders talk on the telephone at least once a month.

However, parallel to the support for his speech at Sde Boker and Israel's restraint in view of Qassam rocket attacks following the cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip, the German hosts will ask for progress in the road map with the assistance of the Quartet.

Yesterday, Merkel met with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, who made an official visit to Germany.

At the conclusion of their meeting, Merkel said that "we would like to take advantage of the encouraging signs coming from the Israeli government in order to achieve progress. We need to achieve results to put an end to violence in the territories."

In this light, it is expected that the German government will suggest that the willingness of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to cooperate on furthering the peace process should be utilized to make progress.

Diplomatic sources said "it would be a very serious mistake to ignore the centrality of these states to the process."

The German government concurs with Olmert that the conflict in Iraq should not be linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, sources in Berlin expressed concern that the two problems may merge, and also come to include the crisis in Lebanon, transforming the Middle East into a global confrontation.

During his visit Olmert is also scheduled to meet with the German President Horst Kohler, as well as with leaders of the Jewish community.

The prime minister will begin his day in Berlin with a ceremony at a nearby train station, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.

On Wednesday morning, Olmert will meet the Pope in the Vatican. He will then have lunch with Prime Minister Prodi, and will later hold a working meeting in which the two will discuss Italy's central role in the United Nations force in southern Lebanon.

The prime minister will also meet Italian President Carlo Ciampi.