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Israeli Prime Minister Meets Congressional Leaders


Following his meeting with President Bush, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went to Capitol Hill for talk s with congressional leaders. VOA's Dan Robinson reports, these came as U.S. lawmakers joined the Bush administration and Israel in supporting the newly-formed government in the West Bank of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Prime Minister Olmert, with House and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders, stopped briefly before cameras before going into their talks late Tuesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid re-stated bipartisan support for Israel:

PELOSI: With the Republican and Democratic leaders gathered here you see how strong the bipartisanship is for a great U.S.-Israel relationship. We are honored by the prime minister's visit and we look forward to hearing from him about the situation in the Middle East.

REID: With no equivocation or exception, we have no friend in the world like the state of Israel.

"Let me just express to you Mr. Prime Minister what I think you already know, the strong bipartisan support here in Congress for the U.S.-Israeli relationship. When it comes to Israel and our bilateral relationship there really are no differences here in the Congress, we welcome you back in the Capitol," said Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Prime Minister Olmert thanked the lawmakers for the bipartisan show of support. "This is a great source of strength and encouragement for the people of Israel to know that we can rely on this friendship, in good times and bad times, we always have the support of the U.S. Congress," he said.

This was Olmert's second visit to the Capitol as Prime Minister, having addressed a joint meeting of Congress just over a year ago.

But it came as the U.S., European allies, and Israel seek to bolster the Fatah-based government of Palestinian president Abbas, who formed an emergency government in the West Bank after the anti-Israel Hamas took over power in Gaza following fierce street battles with Fatah.

Appearing with President Bush at the White House (Tuesday) Prime Minister Olmert told reporters Israel wants to strengthen Palestinian moderates.

On Capitol Hill this week, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Democrat Tom Lantos, welcomed the Bush administration decision to resume aid for Palestinians, as long as U.S. funds do not fall into the hands of Hamas.

Congress has also demonstrated support for Israel in various pieces of legislation, including a resolution urging the U.N. Security Council to charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the international convention against genocide because of his calls for the destruction of Israel.

Democratic Congresswomen Diane Watson was joined on the House floor this week by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:

WATSON: His pledge to wipe Israel off the map, and his denial of the Holocaust have shocked the civilized world.

LEHTINEN: While most people desire to live in a world of freedom, liberty, prosperity and peace, Iran's rulers actively seek a world of oppression, destruction, of war, a world without Israel and without a United States of America.

The question of potential threats to Israel from Iran's nuclear program was also a topic during the Israeli prime minister's appearance at the White House with President Bush. "I fully understand the concerns of any Israeli when they hear the voice of the man in Iran saying on the one hand we want to acquire the technologies and know-how to enrich uranium which can then be converted into a nuclear weapon, and on the other hand we want to destroy Israel, if I were a Israeli citizen I would view that as a serious threat to my security," he said.

President Bush Tuesday repeated his hope for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, but repeated his long-standing position that all options are on the table.

Legislation to increase financial pressure on Tehran, through sanctions on its energy sector as well as other steps, is moving through Congress.

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