MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti commentator Maria Appakova)
On Thursday, October 18, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert paid a brief visit to Russia. He was the first high-ranking overseas politician to meet with Vladimir Putin after the Russian president's visit to Iran. The aim was to discuss the Russian-Iranian negotiations, although Middle East settlement and bilateral cooperation were also on the agenda as all these issues are closely interconnected.
U.S. President George W. Bush is also eager to learn what Putin achieved in Tehran. But, unlike the Israelis, for whom the Iranian issue is a matter of life and death, he can wait. The Israeli prime minister could not and asked Putin for a meeting a few days before the Russian president went to Tehran.
In recent years, Russian-Iranian cooperation has been a cause of concern for the Israelis far more than Moscow's stand on Middle East settlement.
"What do you think of Iran, and how are you getting along with Tehran?" were the questions Israelis put endlessly to everyone in the know. Diplomats, politicians and academics have sought answers in Moscow. Israeli journalists have put questions about Iran to practically every Russian politician and diplomat visiting Israel. They wanted to know all about Tehran's nuclear programs, military cooperation between Russia and Iran, and basically about the adequacy of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly called in question the existence of the "Zionist formation", or Israel.
Following the expansion of Tehran's influence in the Middle East (in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq), Israel's interest in the Iranian issue has become even more acute.
The Middle East conflict, which initially involved Israeli-Arab confrontation, is gradually turning into an Iranian-Israeli confrontation. Or rather an American-Iranian one, involving all the Arab countries and Israel to an equal extent.
The Israelis are now primarily concerned about Iran's influence on the Palestinian Hamas and the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, both of which, incidentally, are holding Israeli prisoners of war. Russia has promised assistance in their release and it is possible that Olmert's hasty visit was also due to that consideration. Such issues need to be discussed in person.
The information that was exchanged by high-ranking politicians, first in Tehran and now in Moscow, is undoubtedly very different from what has appeared in the press. And this equally concerns the subject of war prisoners and the sensitive issue of the Iranian nuclear dossier.
This is what has been officially stated about Putin's visit to Tehran: "The presidents of Russia and Iran pointed to the need for a speedy settlement of the situation surrounding the Iranian nuclear program by political and diplomatic means through negotiations and dialogue, and expressed the hope to find a long-term, comprehensive solution."
The second summit of the five Caspian countries, including Russia, which was held in Tehran, also confirmed Iran's right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes under IAEA control.
That is nothing new or unexpected.
It was not until Putin returned to Moscow that Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said that during his visit the Russian president described, among other things, his vision of a solution to the issue of the Iranian nuclear dossier. Larijani did not comment on the Russian president's proposals beyond saying that they would be made public at another time.
But what is off-limits to the general public is unlikely to be a secret for leaders of the countries concerned with the Iranian issue. And they are anxious to know not only what Putin said, but also how the Iranians reacted to his words.
Clearly, Tehran will not give up its nuclear programs, including uranium enrichment on its territory, but the situation could change if Iranian settlement were to take the same path as the solution to the North Korean nuclear dossier.
However, there is one important proviso. Already now Iran is an extremely influential player in the Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia, even without nuclear weapons. Tehran's ambitions and opportunities in no way compare with Pyongyang's. Iran would have to be offered far more than North Korea. Mostly likely, it will not be economic assistance, investment or help in the development of the nuclear industry, but also official recognition of Tehran's role in solving Middle Eastern problems.
Previously, Russia has not objected to that. Only the United States and Israel have been vehemently opposed. But are there other options? And what new ideas are lurking behind the Iranian leaders' rhetoric? Olmert and Bush want to know.
In other words, what the Russian president has brought back from Tehran will now shape the situation in the Middle East.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.