Olmert: European Visit Achieved Almost All Its Goals

ROME - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday that during his visit to Germany and Italy this week he managed to achieve more than 90 percent of the goals he had set himself.

Asked by reporters whether he was willing to describe his visits to Berlin and Rome as having been more or less than 90 percent successful, Olmert said that in terms of his goals for the meetings in the two European capitals, that was the case. He also hinted that the atmosphere in which the trip took place was even better.

The question was asked at a joint conference between Olmert and his Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, at the end of which the two embraced twice and declared their deep, long-term friendship. This comes after similar public displays of affection with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Olmert described as the European leader he is closest to.

There is normally no risk of suspecting Olmert of modesty, but he can certainly look back at this trip with satisfaction. Two key European states, Germany and Italy, welcomed him warmly and exhibited great friendship. The fallout of the second Lebanon war, which ended four months ago, was hardly felt. Germany assumes the rotating presidency of the European Union in January, and Italy, which deployed thousands of troops to southern Lebanon, told him things he had hoped to hear -- at least in public.

Olmert managed to elicit unequivocal statements on three issues that were very important to him: sharp and uncompromising criticism of the Holocaust denial conference in Iran; a commitment on imposing economic sanctions on Iran in order to prevent it from achieving nuclear technology; and support for Israel's stance regarding talks with the Palestinians, which calls for negotiations that are based on the principles of the road map and the decisions of the international Quartet.

Olmert departed from Rome last night, having also met with Pope Benedict XVI. The prime minister noted that the Pope received him on a day he normally does not receive foreign guests. There was a lot of warmth and smiles, and very little criticism, mostly in comments made by Prodi.

These include, for example, remarks he made on Syria. Prodi made it clear that on the matter of Israeli-Syrian negotiations, there are differences between Italy and Israel, but added that both countries aspire toward the same end: protecting the independence and national makeup of Lebanon.

Olmert had told the reporters that they would be able to hear disagreements during the press conference, but that behind closed doors there was no argument over the Syrian issue. Olmert described his meetings with Prodi as "excellent."

At the end of the meeting with the Italian prime minister, Prodi said that his country will actively participate in imposing sanctions on Iran, but noted that these must be sanctions "aimed at ending Iran's ability to produce nuclear weapons for war."

Prodi said that relations between Israel and Italy were "excellent."

He also said that Italy recognizes Israel's need to exist as a Jewish state in the future, a statement Olmert welcomed.

Prodi called on Israel and Olmert to undertake positive steps vis-a-vis the Palestinians to further negotiations. Olmert said that steps were being taken and expressed his hope that in the near future he will meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

During the press conference, Prodi rejected claims that in his former role as president of the European Commission, he was anti-Israel, while the government of Silvio Berlusconi, which ruled Italy until recently, was much friendlier to Israel.

Olmert agreed with Prodi, and said that although the Berlusconi government was very friendly, Prodi worked in close cooperation with Israel as a genuine friend.