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Israel's Prime Minister in Russia on Official Visit


Iran's nuclear program is high on the agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Russia, where he has met with President Vladimir Putin and other top officials.

Prime Minister Olmert's visit is timed to mark the 15th anniversary of Israel and Russia establishing diplomatic relations after the fall of the Soviet Union.

While relations between the two former Cold War adversaries are generally positive, clear policy differences remain.

The key issue for Mr. Olmert is Iran's nuclear program, which he calls a grave threat to Israel's security.

In public remarks, Mr. Olmert referred to Iran when he said Israel has no choice but to prepare a response to a country that has threatened to destroy his country. He added that President Putin and other Russian officials "understand his concerns" about Iran.

But Mr. Putin has made little mention of Iran, focusing instead on the Middle East peace process and the fight against international terrorism.

Russia has long opposed placing economic sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear program, saying such a move will only make matters worse.

Moscow has multi-billion-dollar investments at stake in the Islamic Republic, including the construction of Iran's first nuclear power plant, now nearing completion.

Another key issue for Israel is its assertion that most of the weapons used by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon in the recent war against Israel came from Russia, via Iran and Syria.

Israel was also disturbed earlier this year when Mr. Putin invited leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas to Russia after their victory in parliamentary elections in January. Most other world powers, including the United States and European Union, have shunned the Hamas-led Palestinian government until the group recognizes Israel's right to exist.

More recently, Russia has demanded that Hamas take that step in order to move the peace process forward.

Russia is a member of the so-called "quartet" in the peace efforts, along with the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations.