Just say no to selling to Iran or Syria

MOSCOW – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday to support new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities and urged Russia not to sell arms to Iran or Syria.

Olmert’s brief, abruptly announced visit came days after Putin traveled to Iran and met with its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has publicly called for Israel’s demise. During the trip, Putin vowed to support Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy and warned “outside forces” – an apparent reference to the U.S. – against attacking Tehran.

In a three-hour meeting with Putin, Olmert “expressed his opinion that effective sanctions by all the international community would have the potential to stop Iran pursuing the nuclear path,” said Miri Eisin, the Israeli prime minister’s spokeswoman.

Russia has resisted further U.N. sanctions against Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment and other activities that Israel and the U.S. say are aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for energy production alone.

Eisen said Olmert’s visit was scheduled several days ago, but it was announced only after Putin returned from Iran.

As he and Olmert sat down for talks, Putin acknowledged the Israeli leader’s dismay over Iran’s nuclear program and promised to discuss his meetings in Tehran.

“We know how concerned you are about the situation surrounding the Iranian [nuclear program],” said Putin, the first Kremlin leader to visit Iran since 1943. “I am ready to share the results of my visit.”

Olmert expressed eagerness “to hear from you about the results of your trip to Iran and talk about other concerns.”

The Kremlin later released a brief statement saying that Putin, at Olmert’s request, briefed the Israeli leader on “the main results of his recent visit to Tehran.”

Putin sought to assuage both Iran and the West during his trip, a delicate balancing act reflecting his reach for global influence and desire to preserve warm ties with a Middle Eastern ally without angering Washington.

By rejecting Iranian pressure to set a firm startup date for a nuclear power plant Russia is building in Iran, Putin signaled that he was using Moscow’s levers of influence to nudge Tehran toward cooperation with the international community.

But Putin also warned against attacking Iran, a boost to a country that has felt increasingly isolated and fearful of a U.S. attack.