Russia's Putin meets Israeli PM, Iran in focus

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MOSCOW, Oct 18 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin sought today to allay Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's concerns about Iran's nuclear programme after the Russian leader visited Tehran earlier this week.

''We know how much you are worried by the situation about Iran's nuclear programme,'' Putin told Olmert at the start of their talks in the Kremlin. ''I am ready to share with you the results of my visit to Tehran.'' Olmert paid a snap visit to Russia and the two men met for over three hours before heading back to Israel, a spokeswoman for the Israeli prime minister said in Jerusalem.

''The main topics of discussion were the situation surrounding Iran and the Middle East peace process,'' the Kremlin said on its Web site without elaborating.

Reporters were only allowed at the photo opportunity.

Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin said in Jerusalem the two men spoke ''extensively and in great detail'' about the Iranian nuclear issue in talks which she described as ''very warm''.

''The prime minister reiterated his stance that only effective sanctions by the world can stop Iran's nuclear aspirations,'' Eisin said.

She added that Olmert warned that Iran's and Syria's quest to acquire advanced weapons systems from Russia ''could change the balance of power in the region''.

Putin visited Iran on Tuesday, the first Kremlin leader to go to there since Josef Stalin in 1943, and told Washington that Moscow would not accept military action against Tehran. He also invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to visit Moscow.

Putin's visit to Tehran was watched closely because of Moscow's possible leverage in the Islamic Republic's nuclear row with the West.

Russia is building Iran's first atomic power plant in Bushehr, but Western powers fear Tehran's pursuit of nuclear-generated electricity is a precursor to building an atom bomb. Iran says its programme is for peaceful purposes.

ISRAELI CONCERNS Earlier today Israeli President Shimon Peres said Tehran was attempting to become an ''empire'' and to spread its ''hegemony'' over the Middle East.

''On top of this they are building a nuclear bomb despite all their denials,'' he told reporters in Jerusalem. ''The evidence is clear because no country would spend millions and millions of dollars to build long-range missiles that can carry conventional weapons -- it doesn't make sense.'' ''The strength of Iran is in the division in the international community,'' Peres added.

''I believe that if the international community shows a united position there won't be a need for a war or any bloodshed ... and better to do it at the earliest possible call.'' The Israeli-Palestinian peace process was discussed at the meeting, Eisin said.

Russia is part of the ''Quartet'' of international mediators on the Middle East. Other members are the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

''Russia views this meeting as a step in a series of events before convening a full-scale international conference on all-embracing peaceful settlement in the Middle East,'' the Kremlin source told the Itar-Tass news agency.

REUTERS RKM BST0149

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