First Published: 2006-05-22

Olmert prepares for first summit with Bush

Israeli PM’s talks with US President will focus on his plans to redraw Israel’s recognized borders.


Middle East Online

By Ron Bousso - WASHINGTON

His first talks with Bush

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert prepared Monday for his first talks with US President George W. Bush that will focus on the Israeli leader's plans to redraw Israel's recognized borders.

Olmert arrived in the US capital Sunday and planned to hold talks Monday evening with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice focusing on the stalled peace process with the Palestinians as well as Iran's nuclear program.

The prime minister, who is scheduled to meet Bush at the White House on Tuesday, will seek to bolster the Jewish state's relations with its chief ally, which are instrumental in his ambitious plan to redraw the map of the Middle East.

In a similar way to his predecessor, Ariel Sharon, who led the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip, Olmert will use his visit to "show himself as a reliable and serious leader who can implement historic moves," a senior government official said.

The newly-elected premier has vowed to dismantle dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank by 2010 in order to assure Israel's defensible and viable borders.

But in turn he wants to cement control over the big housing blocs where the vast majority of the quarter of a million settlers live - with or without agreement from the Palestinians.

Despite his determination to push forward with his plan, Olmert will assure the US Administration that his government was determined to hold talks with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmud Abbas before turning to unilateral steps.

"Olmert will open negotiation channels with Abbas, but they will be measured in months," the official said. "He needs to convince himself, the US and the Arab states that such an option has been exhausted."

But in order for the negotiations to succeed, Israel expects Abbas to reciprocate first of all by dismantling Palestinian terror infrastructures, including the radical Hamas movement, which leads the government.

"The US has to put pressure on Abbas to use his constitutional powers to dissolve the Hamas government... there will be no talks unless Abbas delivers," the official said.

Israel's deputy premier Shimon Peres said Sunday that Olmert will meet Abbas after his return from Washington.

In the meanwhile, Peres and Israel Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni held talks with Abbas on the sidelines of an economic conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Seikh in what was the highest-level contact between the two sides since the shock election win of Hamas.

Livni vowed they would act to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories, in the grip of massive financial problems after Israel and the West cut aid to the Hamas-led government.

Israel and the US accuse Iran of leading a secret programme to obtain nuclear weapons, although the Islamic state insists will be used for peaceful goals.

Coupled with Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's threat to wipe Israel of the map, the Jewish state sees Iran's atomic ambition as an existential threat.

"The coordination we had in the past over the Iranian issue will continue and will probably improve" following the meeting, the official said.


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