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Israeli PM Visits Rome to Discuss Mideast Peace

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Italian prime Minister Romano Prodi in Rome to discuss the Middle East peace process. Prodi said the present status quo is in no way sustainable. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome that Mr. Olmert met earlier with Pope Benedict at the Vatican.

After a trip to Germany, the Israeli Prime Minister arrived in Rome, where he held a meeting with the Italian Premier Romano Prodi. The two leaders discussed the Middle East peace process and Mr. Prodi said small steps are needed to restart negotiations.

The Italian prime minister said an exchange of prisoners could be one such step and said he would bring it up at the European Council in Brussels. He said Israel must be prepared to be open to any positive signs in this direction.

Mr. Prodi also said that direct talks were needed between Israelis and Palestinians and he said he hoped a meeting would be held as soon as possible.

"The status quo is in no way sustainable," said Mr. Prodi. "A peace process must begin. This is the time of taking small steps. It is certainly not the time for an international conference on the Middle East."

Mr. Prodi said it is an illusion to think that peace can be reached in the Middle East without the participation of Europe and the United States. The Italian prime minister also made clear Israel needed to remain a Jewish state.

The prime minister said "every peace process must go through a renunciation of violence, recognition of the state of Israel, recognition of past agreements".

The two leaders also discussed the recent conference by Holocaust deniers in Iran this week. Prime Minister Olmert said the Tehran conference was "another expression of the most brutal kind of anti-Semitism."

Mr. Olmert reiterated his refusal to launch negotiations with Iran. There can be no dialogue, he said, with a state, which does not want to change its aggressive and intransigent policy.

Earlier, the Israeli prime minister met for around 30 minutes with Pope Benedict at the Vatican. He asked the pope in his next homily to urge Christians to protest Holocaust denials.

Mr. Olmert also invited Benedict to visit Israel, and the Pope replied that he planned to go when things calm down.