Wed, Oct 08, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Olmert in Russia for arms talks

POTENTIAL BUYERS Iran said that it plans to buy advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles from Russia that could target aircraft sent to destroy its nuclear facilities


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Moscow on Monday aiming to focus on Russian arms sales to Israel’s enemies at meetings Russia hopes will bolster its image as a Middle East peacemaker.

Olmert’s trip will probably be one of his last diplomatic ventures; he has announced he will step down in a matter of weeks or months — as soon as a new government is formed or elections are held. That leaves him with little influence and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s invitation may amount to a respectful farewell. The two men were to meet yesterday.

However, Olmert said on Sunday he would emphasize Israel’s security concerns, including “the supply of arms to irresponsible elements whose activities worry us very much.”

He also said he would work to resolve “the Iranian problem, where Russia plays a special role.”

Iran says it plans to buy from Russia advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missiles that could target aircraft sent to destroy its nuclear facilities. Syria, which backs Hezbollah guerrillas who battled Israel in Lebanon in 2006, reportedly has asked to buy them, too.

Moscow has not confirmed the reports, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said recently his government was prepared to sell Syria arms of a “defensive character.”

On sales to Iran, state weapons exporter Rosoboronexport said only that “we do not have such information,” the ITAR-Tass news agency reported on Monday.

Meeting Lavrov late on Monday, Olmert urged Russia to support Israeli-Syrian peace talks and “prevent weapons from Syria from reaching extremist elements in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah,” an official from Olmert’s office said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting’s content was not officially made public.

Olmert also brought up Israel’s concerns about Iran, the official said, and asked Lavrov to ratchet up his country’s “involvement in the international efforts to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons.”

“The international community’s challenge is to strengthen moderate and pragmatic forces in the Middle East and acts that strengthen extremist elements are counterproductive,” Olmert spokesman Mark Regev said in Moscow.

Russia, meanwhile, is emphasizing its role as one of the “Quartet” of international mediators on the Middle East.

“The situation in the Middle East, the peace process and international priorities for its promotion ... will be among the central issue on the agenda,” a Kremlin official said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has frequently called for Israel’s destruction and Israel suspects he means to carry out that objective by developing nuclear weapons with the help of a Russian-built nuclear power plant. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Israel hopes international diplomacy will persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program but says “all options are on the table” if diplomacy fails. In 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

The UN Security Council has approved three rounds of sanctions on Iran. But Russia, a council member with veto power, opposes tightening the sanctions.

Ties between Moscow and Israel improved significantly after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991. Israel is also home to more than 1 million Soviet emigres.

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