debkafile Exclusive from Washington: The Bush-Olmert White House talks produced no substantial decisions aside from arranging another meeting on Se

High expectations were built up in Jerusalem and Israeli media ahead of Ehud Olmert’s first White House meeting with President George W, Bush Tuesday, May 23. Three key issues were supposed to be discussed: peace-making with the Palestinians in the light of Hamas’ takeover of Palestinian government, Olmert’s partial West Bank withdrawal plan and the dangers inherent in Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
debkafile‘s Washington sources report that, in the event, none of these issues were seriously broached. The two leaders agreed to explore these issues further and to meet again on September 5, this year – a far cry from the hoped-for US endorsement of Olmert’s master plan for establishing Israel’s borders unilaterally.
The balloon was diplomatically pricked ahead of the talks by Tony Snow, the White House spokesman. He said before the meeting he did not expect “anything formal” to emerge from this first encounter, which was also tagged as a “getting-to-know-you” occasion.
At Olmert’s first appointment in Washington, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice Monday night explained why it would be premature to go ahead on any of the three key issues.
Time was needed – at least another three months, she said to fully assess the survivability and conduct of Hamas still only four months at the helm of Palestinian government. It is too soon to judge whether chairman Mahmoud Abbas can get his Fatah act together and pose a challenge to Hamas. The clashes raging in the Gaza Strip mean their feud is unresolved.
In Iraq too, a unity government took office only this week. The hope in Washington is that it will be the starting point for the phased exit of US troops. debkafile‘s military sources report Washington is now planning for the US Army to start its handover to Iraqi troops province by province. This plan still has to stand up to reality. A close watch will be kept on its impact on the Middle East at large. Rice added that by September too, Washington’s direction on the Iranian nuclear crisis should become clearer.
The secretary of state may not have said this out loud, but the administration is no doubt watching to see how the new prime minister stands the test of time in Jerusalem. Two months in office, he still needs to demonstrate his ability to stabilize his government coalition.
Before proceeding to the White House, prime minister Olmert visited the Pentagon to meet defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and talk about Iran. He has still to see vice president Dick Cheney and address the joint houses of Congress.

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