MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said in his meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday evening that "Russia is committed to preventing the nuclearization of Iran for military purposes." Olmert, who landed in Moscow in the late afternoon, is scheduled to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday.
Concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program topped the agenda at the meeting, with Olmert telling Lavrov it is "crucial that Russia take part in the international effort to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear power and putting an end to Iran's enrichment operations."
The two discussed the cooperation between Jerusalem and Moscow and agreed it would continue. Israel maintains "both sides see eye-to-eye in regards to the importance of preventing the nuclearization of Iran."
Lavrov also said Moscow is working to secure the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, assuring Olmert their efforts towards this end would continue. Sources within Olmert's entourage also reported the foreign affairs minister had said outright that Russia would not engage Hamas so long as the latter failed to meet the conditions set by the Quartet.
The two leaders also discussed the importance of strengthening the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ahead of the upcoming elections in the Palestinian Authority (in January 2009). Likewise, they agreed that peace negotiations between Israel and the PA must continue to prevent extremists from gaining clout in the region.
Olmert expressed his concerns regarding the supply of Russian arms to hostile groups in the Middle East, including Iran, Syria and Hizbullah. "It's important that Russia do everything within its power to keep weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists in Lebanon," Olmert was quoted as telling his host.
The matter will also be breached during Olmert's meeting with President Medvedev.
Sergey's Courtyard makes waves
Many in the prime minister's entourage were surprised by the extensive media coverage dedicated to Israel's decision to restore the ownership of Sergey's Courtyard in Jerusalem to Russia. The property was owned by the USSR until it severed its diplomatic ties with Israel in 1967. The motion to return it to
Russian hands was passed as part of a goodwill gesture ahead of Olmert's visit to Moscow, likely his last as prime minister.
Reports on the courtyard's 'repatriation' garnered headlines in newspapers, internet websites, radio programs and television news broadcasts.
Despite the political turmoil the issue caused in Israel, it was met with warm appreciation in Russia. Chairman of the Russian Auditing Chamber, Sergei Stepashin, even joined part of Olmert's meeting with Lavrov to thank the prime minister in person.