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Israeli Prime Minister Visits United States

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is here in Washington today for a meeting with President Bush. According to Israeli officials, they will talk about the nuclear threat from Iran and they will talk about restarting talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

NPR's Linda Gradstein reports from Jerusalem.

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LINDA GRADSTEIN: Olmert told reporters on the plane on the way to Washington that American support for Israel has traditionally been bi-partisan, and he does not expect the results of last week's midterm election to change that. He also expressed confidence that President Bush will stand firm on Iran. Saying in a Washington Post interview, quote, "if there is one person I can trust, it's him."

But privately, Israeli officials say they're nervous that the Bush administration might be willing to negotiate with Iran, something Israel rejects. On the plane, Olmert said that Israel has various options which he is not prepared to discuss. Speaking in Los Angeles, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said a nuclear Iran threatens the values of the international community.

Mr. TZIPI LIVNI (Foreign Minister, Israel): If these values means anything, if the promise of (unintelligible) is more important than the price of oil, then the time for the international indifference and hesitation in the fight of the Iranian threat has long passed.

GRADSTEIN: On the Palestinian issue, Olmert said he's prepared to negotiate with the ruling Islamist Hamas movement if it accepts the international community's conditions, meaning renouncing violence and recognizing Israel.

Hamas and the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are poised to announce a new national unity government they hope will lead to the lifting of an international aid boycott that has made it virtually impossible for the Hamas led government to function. The new prime minister is expected to be Muhammad Shabir, a former head of the Islamic University in Gaza. Although Shabir is close with many Hamas officials, he is not a member of Hamas, and is thus likely to be more acceptable to the international community than the present leadership.

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Olmert insists he is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians, and said the world will be surprised about how far he is willing to go. For example, he said he's willing to release quote, "many, many Palestinian prisoners." For months, Egypt has been trying to broker a deal when which Israel will release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants in June. Palestinian officials say the deal is now on hold until a new Palestinian government is formed.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.