Sunday, October 21, 2007

PM heads to Europe to push Iran sanctions, discuss ME parley

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert departs Sunday night for talks with the new leaders of France and Britain to press for intensified sanctions against Iran. He will also seek support for Israel's position on the peace process ahead of the Annapolis conference.
On Monday Olmert will meet in Paris with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Talks are also scheduled with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and representatives of the French Jewish community, the largest in Europe.
On Tuesday the prime minister will meet in London with his British counterpart Gordon Brown, who took office in June. He will also meet with British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Miliband and with the head of the opposition, Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Talks are also scheduled with leaders of the British Jewish community.
France and Britain are the European Union's two permanent representatives on the United Nations Security Council. The body is set to meet before the end of the year to discuss a new package of sanctions against Iran as part of efforts to thwart Teheran's nuclear program.
Paris has significantly toughened its position on the Iranian nuclear threat since Sarkozy was elected president five months ago. Britain also supports considering new sanctions against Iran.
But efforts to achieve an international consensus on stepping up sanctions are opposed by Russia and China, who make up the other permanent members of the Security Council, along with the US, which backs tougher sanctions.
In talks in Moscow on Thursday, Olmert was told by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia understands Israeli concerns over Iran. At the same time there was no indication that Moscow will back a new package of sanctions.
Israel has kept a low profile on Teheran's drive to acquire a nuclear potential, stressing that a nuclear Iran would pose a threat to the whole region and the world at large.
The prime minister's spokeswoman Miri Eisen denied that Olmert's trip to Europe, coming on the heels of the meeting with Putin, represented Israel raising its profile on the Iranian nuclear question.
"Israel still sees this very much as a world issue," Eisen said, noting that other issues are also on the agenda as Israel seeks to encourage economic support for the Palestinians and European backing for the work of quartet envoy Tony Blair.
Eisen noted that the trip to Europe was planned a long time ago and Olmert's hasty visit to Moscow was a question of finding a time that suited both leaders.
Also on the agenda during Olmert's talks in Paris and London will be efforts to revive the peace process.
Sarkozy said Friday he would tell Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that "now is the time" to make peace with the Palestinians.
Sarkozy said he would make the same case as the one he made to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas last month in New York.
"My message to Mr. Olmert will simply be that ...the time has come to make peace," Sarkozy told a news conference after an EU summit in Lisbon. "Now is the time to take risks and build a lasting peace."
Israeli and Palestinian delegations held another round of talks in Jerusalem on Friday aimed at reaching agreement on a joint statement of principles to be presented to the Annapolis gathering.
It was agreed that a new round of talks will be held in the coming days. The chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei dismissed reports of a crisis in the talks. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said in-depth discussions had been held and some progress had been achieved.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad will meet on Sunday with Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik, Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Tzahi Hanegbi, and seven other Knesset members from various parties.
The meeting is part of Itzik's efforts to "broaden the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians," the speaker's spokesman Ilan Ostheld said. Itzik had hosted Fayad at her Jerusalem residence two months ago.

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