Iranian threat tops agenda: US President George W. Bush told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday that Iran was an "existential threat to peace" and said the world must take that threat seriously.
"It is very important for the world to take the Iranian threat seriously, which the United States does," Bush said as he began White House talks with Olmert, visiting amid a corruption scandal at home that could drive him from office.
President Bush is trying to reassure Israelis worried about the US commitment to keeping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The two leaders met in the Oval Office.
At this time there is no official confirmation from Prime Minister Olmert's associates that he will ask Bush to order a military strike on Iran before the end of his tenure.
However, a senior diplomatic source involved in contacts with the Americans in recent years said that on several occasions Israel asked for more decisive US action against the Iranians, based on the assumption that diplomatic activity is insufficient to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
The two leaders were also expected to discuss Israel's request to acquire one or two squadrons of the F-35 stealth aircraft, and possibly also F-22 jets. Both models are considered the most advanced in the world.
Bush welcomes Olmert in Oval Office. (Photo: Reuters)
In a press statement following the meeting, Olmert said that the discussions about the Iranian threat "derive from the need for a profound mutual understanding as to the need for handling the threat, to prevent Iran from acquiring unconventional powers."
"I came out with fewer question marks about the ways, means, time constraints, and determination necessary for handling the issue," he continued.
Olmert also commented on the Syrian peace process, saying that "Israel and the US are cooperating strategically, so clearly the Americans were aware of our efforts with Syria."
He refused to comment on a schedule for the talks however, remarking, "I don't want to create momentary excitement over a subject that is extremely sensitive, which could cause disruption and harm." The prime minister did say that a meeting with the Syrians was not scheduled for the next 24 hours.
Commenting on newly elected Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's speech, during which he promised Jerusalem would remain Israel's undivided capital, Olmert said, "Obama's appearance was impressive, and what he said about Jerusalem was touching."
The prime minister also spoke of the possible ceasefire in Gaza, saying, "We do not desire a military conflict, but do not fear it either. We have presented our position to Egypt. If our position is respected, we will achieve the results we want."
'You come back as my friend'
At the beginning of their meeting, Bush and Olmert again displayed their friendly relationship with the familiar body language of smiles and slaps on each other's back. At the outset of the meeting, Bush told Olmert that the two will be discussing both the Palestinian and Lebanon issues, and also asked for an update on the Syrian question.
However, the American president made it clear that the other issues will not keep the two leaders from discussing the main issue on the agenda, Iran. Olmert told Bush that Iran is indeed the main threat on Israel, and thanked him for his visit to Israel about a month ago.
Bush said he enjoyed his visit to Israel and characterized it as a "meaningful trip." He welcomed Olmert back to Washington, saying "you come back as my friend."
Roni Sofer and Yitzhak Benhorin contributed to the report