Monday, November 13, 2006

Olmert is blowing hot and cold over Iran

Olmert: I'm not looking for war with Iran over nukes

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent, and Itim

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said ahead of White House talks with President George W. Bush on Monday that he was not looking for war with Iran over its nuclear program.

"Every compromise that will stop Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities which will be acceptable to President Bush will be acceptable to me," Olmert said in an interview with NBC's "Today Show."

"I am not looking for wars. I am not looking for confrontations. I'm looking for the outcome. This campaign will be tested in only one way - whether it will succeed to stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons," he said in the interview, recorded in Israel on Friday and broadcast on Monday.

Israel's concerns over Iran's uranium enrichment program, the war in Iraq and Palestinian moves to form a unity government to replace a Hamas-led administration are likely to top the agenda of Olmert's talks with Bush.

Tehran's goal is to "ultimately wipe Israel off the map," Olmert said in the interview. "This is not an issue of Israel only. This is a moral issue of the whole world and the whole world has to join forces in order to stop it. This is a problem of every country. I know that President Bush is fully aware of that."

Olmert arrived in the U.S. with expectations that he could make small-scale moves on the Palestinian front, including the possibility of offering humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

The prime minister said Sunday that he did not believe Washington's strong backing for Israel would waver.

"Support for Israel traditionally has been bipartisan. I don't see anything changing in the next two years that can alter the balance of feeling towards us," Olmert told reporters accompanying him on the flight to Washington.

In preparation for his talks with Bush, Olmert had a working dinner Sunday night with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The prime minister also hinted for the first time Sunday at the possibility of Israeli military action against Iran to thwart its nuclear efforts.

In a conversation with press aboard his plane Sunday, Olmert said that "Iran will only agree to a compromise on the issue of its nuclear program if it has a reason to be afraid."

But he refused to elaborate on Israel's options regarding the issue.

However, in an interview published Sunday in Newsweek and the Washington Post, Olmert made his harshest statements so far about Iran.

In the interview, Olmert compared Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler and said "he has to be stopped."

"My position is clear," the prime minister said regarding Iran. "If there can be a compromise that will stop Iran short of crossing the technological threshold that will lead them into nuclear capabilities, we will be for such a compromise."

"But I don't believe that Iran will accept such compromise unless they have a very good reason to fear the consequences of not reaching it," explained Olmert. "In other words, Iran must start to fear."

When asked what he thought could be done about Iran, Olmert said, "I can think of many different measures. The guideline has to be that this government and the people of Iran must understand that if they do not accept the request of the international community, they're going to pay dearly."

Responding to the interview, Iran said it would react swiftly and harshly to such a move by Israel.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a news conference on Sunday that Iran would put into action its Revolutionary Guards if Israel attacked the Islamic Republic.

"If Israel takes such a stupid step and attacks, the answer of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard will be rapid, firm and destructive and it will be given in a few seconds," he said.

He also said the country was pressing ahead with plans to expand its program to enrich uranium, which the West and Israel accuse Iran of using to make nuclear warheads, despite Tehran's denials.

After the Washington leg of Olmert's trip, during which he will also meet with administration and congressional leaders, Olmert will head to Los Angeles to speak at the General Assembly (GA) of the United Jewish Communities.

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