Monday's summit with Condoleeza Rice, the US secretary of state, and George Bush, the US president, has been described in Israel as "a down-to-business meeting" on Iran.

 

With Tehran continuing to reject international calls to halt its nuclear enrichment efforts, Israel has moved the subject of Iran to the top of its agenda.

 

The talks, which come six months after Olmert's first meeting with Bush at the White House, follow the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, who opposed opening dialogue with Iran.

 

His expected successor, Robert Gates, is said to be favour negotiations.

 

Israel has supported sanctions against Tehran after its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, a process which Israel, the United States and several European powers say may hide a secret nuclear weapons programme - despite Iranian insistence that it is for peaceful purposes.

 

Israel - widely considered the Middle East's sole, if undeclared, nuclear weapons power - considers Iran its chief enemy.

 

In Los Angeles on Friday, Tzipi Livini, the Israeli foreign minister, said Tehran was buying time by negotiating with the international community and warned of a regional arms race if Tehran obtained an atomic weapon.

 

"The UN resolution said very clearly in July, stop the enrichment or face sanctions," Livni said. "And here we are in November, and still we are talking about the next resolution for 'soft sanctions'."

 

Olmert was quoted in Washington Post and Newsweek on Sunday as saying: "Ahmadinejad is a man who is ready to commit crimes against humanity, and he has to be stopped."

 

Compromise

 

"Ahmadinejad is a man who is ready to commit crimes against humanity, and he has to be stopped"

Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister 

Israel, the prime minister said, is ready for a compromise, "but I don't believe that Iran will accept such a compromise unless they have good reason to fear the consequences ... In other words, Iran must start to fear".

 

Mohammad Ali Hosseini, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, said on Sunday that Tehran would deliver a "destructive" response to any Israeli military attack and that it would continue trying to increase its capacity for uranium enrichment.

 

Hosseini's comments came after an Israeli official refused to rule out a strike on Iran, with the United Nations still unable to agree on whether to levy sanctions against it.

 

Olmert also argued about US policy in Iraq in the wake of the Democrats' election triumph.

 

Democrats, who wrested control of the US Congress from Republicans on Tuesday, have long called for a re-assessment of the US strategy in Iraq, with many calling for redeployment of US forces from the country.

 

"If there is a premature pull out before Iraq has a robust  government with a strong authority that can keep the country from  collapsing into an internal civil war, America will have to think about the possible ramifications on neighbouring Arab countries with  moderate governments," Olmert said in the Washington Post and Newsweek interviews.

 

Study group

US vetoed a UN resolution against
Israel's recent attack in Gaza strip

 

Under increasing pressure to change US policy in Iraq, Bush is awaiting conclusions of a study group that may recommend opening talks with Iran and Syria.

 

Bush will speak to members of the Iraq Study Group on the same day he is to meet Olmert.

 

The group is expected to deliver its final report by the end of the year.

 

Monday's meeting will be the first Bush-Olmert meeting since Israel's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, in which the United States lent its unfailing political support to its ally.

 

On Saturday, Washington vetoed an Arab-sponsored draft resolution in the UN Security Council that would have condemned an Israeli artillery barrage that killed 19 people in the Gaza Strip last week.