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. Putin briefs Israeli leader on Iran trip
MOSCOW, Oct 18 (AFP) Oct 18, 2007
Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced understanding Thursday for Israel's concerns about Iran's nuclear programme during a last-minute meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"We know how the situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear programme worries you," Putin said as he greeted Olmert at the Kremlin. "I am ready to share the results of my visit to Tehran with you."

Speaking in Hebrew through a Russian translator, Olmert replied that he looked forward to "talking with you about the worries we have about this situation" and to hearing about Putin's trip to Tehran.

Olmert rushed to Moscow for urgent talks in an effort to win Putin's backing for new sanctions against Israel's archfoe Iran over its nuclear drive.

During the three-hour meeting, Olmert "emphasised his concerns over Iran's quest for nuclear weapons and reiterated his firm stand that effective diplomatic and economic sanction could deter Iran from pursuing its path," the prime minister's spokeswoman told AFP.

Olmert's office announced the one-day trip on Wednesday, just a day after Putin paid the first visit to Iran by a Kremlin chief since World War II. Putin distanced himself from Western warnings over Tehran's atomic programme.

"This is a last-minute, urgent meeting," a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem told AFP of the trip, which came as Israel and the Palestinians held talks ahead of a US-sponsored peace summit.

Olmert, travelling with four top advisors, pressed Putin to support new sanctions against Iran, which the UN Security Council plans to discuss before the end of the year, a senior official said.

Putin adopted a different stance on Thursday, saying direct dialogue was preferrable to sanctions, while dismissing reports of an assassination plot against him in Tehran as an attempt to "wreck" his visit.

"Direct dialogue with states where there are problems are always more productive and a quicker path to success than the path of threats, sanctions or even force," Putin said in a televised question-and-answer session earlier.

Israel, widely regarded as the sole if undeclared nuclear armed power in the Middle East, considers the Islamic republic's programme a cover for developing atomic weapons -- a charge Tehran vehemently denies.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose position is largely ceremonial, issued a statement on Thursday comparing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler and saying there was proof Iran was manufacturing nuclear weapons.

"Many times in history it was too late to prevent horrors and bloodshed, for instance with Stalin and Hitler," he said.

"We are nearing a similar turn of events with Ahmadinejad. We must not ignore Iran's aspiration to become a religious, extremist Persian empire that would rule the entire Middle East," Peres said.

"Even if President Putin says he's not sure that Iran is developing nuclear power for war... many intelligence services around the world have proof that Iran is looking to make nuclear arms for war and death."

On Wednesday, US President George W. Bush upped the rhetoric at a White House news conference, warning the world to do more to isolate Iran unless it wanted World War III.

Washington refuses to renounce the military option, spurring speculation on the chances of a US strike, should diplomacy ultimately break down.

Olmert flew to Moscow just 24 hours after Iranian officials said Putin put forward a proposal to break the nuclear deadlock during his talks on Tuesday with the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Russia is helping to build Iran's first nuclear power plant and has a long-standing proposal to carry out uranium enrichment for Iran on its own soil, something Tehran has rejected.

Olmert also raised before Putin "Israel's concern over Iran's and Syria's desire to acquire from Russia weapons systems that are a potential threat to the strategic balance in the Middle East," Eisin said.

Israel has repeatedly urged Russia to stop selling its two enemies advanced weapons systems, namely anti-tank and anti-aircraft batteries, which Moscow assured would not be used against the Jewish state.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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