PM, Bush to Discuss Iran, PA on June 19

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with U.S. President George Bush in Washington on June 19. Talks will focus on the Palestinian issue and the Iranian nuclear threat.

The White House officially announced the meeting yesterday, while Olmert's aides, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman, were in Washington conducting preparatory talks.

From Olmert's perspective, a Washington visit is a chance to shift the Israeli public agenda from a focus on domestic politics to a focus on diplomatic moves. The trip will take place a few days after both the second round of Labor's leadership primary and the election of a new state president, making the timing appropriate for such a shift in focus; and a meeting with Bush, who supported Olmert through all his political crises, could help to "relaunch" Olmert's premiership.

Advancing some sort of diplomatic initiative, even if it is merely show, could also help Olmert to keep Labor in the government after it chooses its new leader.

The White House meeting will focus on the chances of advancing a "regional process" based on the Arab peace initiative, on contacts with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and on the possibility of resuming peace talks with Syria, as well as on Iran. Olmert will meet with Abbas next Thursday.

Before his White House visit, the prime minister will presumably announce various measures to make life easier for Palestinian civilians, as is the norm before such trips.

Olmert has met with Bush twice, most recently last November. This meeting, however, will take place at a time of increased tension between Washington and Jerusalem, due to Israel's rejection of America's "benchmark" plan. That plan calls for Israeli measures to increase freedom of movement in the territories and Palestinian action on security.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday, while both were in Vienna for a conference on women leaders. The two discussed the situation in Sderot, which Livni termed "intolerable," and diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians, including the Olmert-Abbas meeting.

Rice will apparently visit Israel and the PA in late June to continue her mediation efforts. During her speech in Vienna, Rice said she saw indications that progress in the Israeli-Palestinian process was possible. The Palestinians, she explained, need a state of their own, while Israelis need neighbors who will provide security; therefore, this is the right time to invest effort in this process.

Livni also met in Vienna with Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian parliament.