MOSCOW -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appealed to Russia yesterday to help block Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the visiting Israeli leader no public assurances.
Relations between Russia and Israel have warmed dramatically in recent years, but the countries are in deep disagreement over the Iranian nuclear issue. Israel, like the West, does not believe Tehran's assertions that its nuclear program is for energy, and wants its capabilities nipped.
But Russia says it has no proof Iran seeks a nuclear weapon, and it continues to build Iran's first, $800 million nuclear reactor. Russia, which wields veto power as a permanent Security Council member, has been a major impediment to imposing UN sanctions on Iran for refusing to scale back its nuclear ambitions.
But Olmert said those ambitions need to be thwarted.
``We don't have the privilege to ignore the true intentions of Iran, whose leadership publicly calls for the destruction of the state of Israel," Olmert said at a news conference with Putin after their meeting. ``The entire international community must join ranks to block Iran's intention of arming itself with nuclear weapons."
``I leave this meeting with the sense that President Putin understands the danger that is lurking from Iran's direction, should it succeed in realizing its objectives of arming itself with nuclear weapons," he added.
Putin remained silent, saying nothing about Iran at the news conference.
Fears about Russia's role in the Iranian standoff grew last month when Moscow, yielding to Iranian pressure, agreed to ship fuel to the atomic power plant it is building in Iran. The fear is that the fuel will be diverted and used to produce bombs.
Despite the tensions, relations between Russia and Israel have improved dramatically since the days of the Cold War, when Moscow helped to arm Arab nations fighting Israel and barred Jews from leaving the Soviet Union.
As the Soviet Union was collapsing in the early 1990s, the nations restored ties, and Moscow loosened the emigration restrictions, prompting more than 1 million Russian-speakers to immigrate to Israel.
Now, Russia is a member of the Quartet of international negotiatiors, along with the United States, the United Nations, and the European Union, pushing for peace in the Middle East.