WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President George W. Bush hosted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday for talks focusing on Iran's nuclear drive and Middle East peace amid gnawing doubts about Olmert's future.
At the top of the meeting, which comes just three weeks after Bush visited Israel to mark its 60th independence day, the two leaders said that the Islamic republic was a threat.
"It's very important for the world to take the Iranian threat seriously, which the United States does," said Bush.
"The Iranian issue was the main part of our discussions," Olmert said afterwards.
"We share deep understanding about the severity of the Iranian threat and the need to deal with it so that Iran cannot reach a non-conventional capability."
"I came to the meeting with several question marks and left it with much less question marks on the ways and methods" to deal with Iran's alleged drive to acquire nuclear weapons.
For Olmert, facing pressure at home to resign over accusations he unlawfully obtained vast sums of money from a US financier, this may well be his last visit to Washington as premier.
Bush, who presented his counterpart a Segway two-wheeler as a gift, fell short of mentioning his close ally's possible demise, which threatens the US president's own hopes of cementing a positive Middle East legacy with his Israel-Palestinian peace initiative.
"I welcome you back here to Washington. You come back as my friend. I'm glad to see my friend," Bush said Wednesday.
In fact, a high-ranking Israeli diplomat told AFP, the White House had been "certain" last week that Olmert would not make the US trip due to his political woes.
Bush and Olmert were also to finalize a US military aid package that includes stealth F-35 fighter jets and an advanced missile early warning system, seen as an effort to bolster Israel in the face of Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran insists is not military-oriented.
On the eve of his meeting with Bush, Olmert said that Iran's quest for nuclear capacity must be stopped "by all possible means."
"Israel and the United States have long understood the acute danger embodied in a nuclear Iran, and are working closely in a concerted, coordinated effort to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear," Olmert told a conference of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
"Israel will not tolerate the possibility of a nuclear Iran, and neither should any other country in the free world," the premier said, in the strongest remarks the Israeli leader has made on the issue.
Israel considers Tehran's nuclear push an existential threat, after repeated calls by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the Jewish state's destruction.
Olmert's visit is viewed by many as his farewell from Bush, whose hopes of seeing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before he leaves office in January 2009 appear to be fading fast.
Chief Palestinian peace negotiator Ahmed Qorei said on Wednesday that clinching a deal by year end would "require a miracle."
And Olmert's own Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said that the premier cannot make major strategic decisions, including a peace deal with the Palestinians, with the cloud of suspicions hanging over his head.
But White House spokeswoman Dana Perino rejected suggestions that the premier's political ordeal "has clouded anyone's vision for getting a Palestinian state defined by the end of the year."
And Olmert told AIPAC that he believes peace with the Palestinians is "truly attainable."
Olmert meanwhile commented on the strong remarks of support for Israel by Barack Obama, the Democratic senator seeking to succeed Bush in January 2009.
"I will bring to the White House an unshakeable commitment to Israel's security," Obama told AIPAC, the day after winning the primary battle to represent the Democrats in the November 4 presidential election.
"The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable today, unbreakable tomorrow, and unbreakable for ever," he said.
"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided."
Olmert said of Obama: "His words on Jerusalem were very moving."
"Of course, if Obama is elected we will discuss with him all the issues if and when they are raised," Olmert said.
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