Olmert Warns Against Hasty U.S. Withdrawal From Iraq

For the first time yesterday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed in public the possibility that the United States may withdraw its forces from Iraq following the victory of the Democratic Party in the mid-term congressional elections. Olmert warned against a hasty withdrawal that may undermine the balance of power in the Middle East and endanger the moderate regimes in the region.

"From our point of view every withdrawal needs to be carefully planned," Olmert said, "in order not to undermine the very delicate balance of moderate countries and emirates in the Middle East. This is the main consideration, and America will be very careful before it makes a step that will endanger the very delicate balance in this region of the world - which is important to the stability of much larger regions of the world."

The Prime Minister believes that U.S. policy will not change in a hurry.

"President George Bush is a hundred percent loyal to his principles, and I do not think there will be any dramatic change as long as he is in power," Olmert said.

"This does not mean that there will be no new thinking about the timing of the American withdrawal from Iraq, but it is too early to say [what the outcome will be]," the prime minister added.

Olmert made these statements in an interview with Adam Bolton, a correspondent for Sky News, a British satellite television program, while attending the Prime Minister's Conference, an international event organized to promote trade and Israeli exports in Tel Aviv yesterday.

Regarding Syria, Olmert said, "Bashar Assad wants to eat his cake and have it, too. We cannot accept that. He cannot back Hezbollah, Khaled Meshal and terror actions throughout the Middle East, be a partner with Iran that calls for the destruction of Israel - and also appear to be a moderate in contacts with Israel."

Commenting on the election results in the United States, Olmert, who is due to depart for a visit to Washington on Saturday, said: "I do not wish to go into American politics. I will only say that Bush is the American President, and one should not write him off just yet. The [Democratic] majority in the Senate is small, 50 to 49, and we should remember that the two best years of [Bill] Clinton in power took place when the poor man lost the majority in Congress." On Monday Olmert will meet with Bush in the White House. Blocking the Iranian threat will top the agenda. Other topics that will be discussed will be efforts to calm the Palestinian front, finding a diplomatic breakthrough, and the enforcement of the cease-fire in Lebanon.

From Washington Olmert will travel to Los Angeles, where he will address the annual conference of the United Jewish Communities General Assembly (GA).