In his final days in office, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been seeking to improve ties with Moscow, and emerged from his visit to the Russian capital with an aura of satisfaction. He concluded the official visit after a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
Olmert said the sides had agreed to set up a forum that would "upgrade their strategic dialogue," and that the discussions would touch on Israel's concerns about potential Russian arms sales to Israel's enemies in Iran and Syria.
However the prime minister refused to comment on recent reports that have said Russia is planning on equipping Syria with ground-to-ground s-300 missiles.
Olmert was asked whether he had discussed with the Russian president the possibility that Israel would attack Iran. "I have never announced that Israel plans to attack Iran, I have never specified dates or blueprints," he responded.
He then added, "I have said on a number of occasions that our intentions have been blown out of proportion. I have said before and I will say again that Israel will not tolerate a nuclear Iran. In any case this is first and foremost the responsibility of the international community and world powers such as the US, Russia, Japan, Germany, and Britain."
Medvedev said that "he opposes a nuclear Iran" and expressed "sharp criticism" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric toward Israel, Olmert said. "He said Russian policy will continue to be one that will never, in any circumstances, hurt Israel's security," the prime minister added.
Olmert also discussed Georgia with Medvedev, but offered few details, saying only that Medvedev said he "appreciates Israel's careful and responsible stance during the Caucasus crisis."
Personal ties with Putin
Regarding negotiations with the Palestinians Olmert remained optimistic. "There has been great progress but we have not yet completed the process. I hope Tzipi Livni will complete the process of assembling the government, continue negotiations and finalize them. We are certainly closer to completion than we were in the beginning."
Olmert also flaunted his relationship with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was not present in Moscow during the visit. "Just a few minutes ago Vladimir Putin called me and expressed his deep regret at not being in town due to personal reasons," Olmert said.
"He thanked me for providing him with the opportunity to improve Israeli-Russian ties during our acquaintanceship, and expressed a desire to keep in touch. Putin and I have established a special personal relationship."
The outgoing prime minister responded to the question of whether he felt the need to apologize for anything, seeing as Yom Kippur was arriving soon, but he remained aloof.
"I am preparing for Yom Kippur just like the rest of the Israeli people. When that day arrives, and we arrive at the prayer in which every Jew beats on his chest, then we will state our apologies," he said.
AP contributed to this report