Israel's Olmert Visits U.S. Amid Corruption Probe Prime Minister Ehud Olmert leaves Israel on Monday for a three-day visit to Washington, where he'll meet with President Bush and address the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Olmert's visit is overshadowed by problems at home, including a corruption probe.
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Israel's Olmert Visits U.S. Amid Corruption Probe

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Israel's Olmert Visits U.S. Amid Corruption Probe

Israel's Olmert Visits U.S. Amid Corruption Probe

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. Israel's prime minister flies to Washington today. Ehud Olmert will be meeting with President Bush, and he'll deliver a speech to a meeting of the most powerful pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S. But Olmert's problems back home are overshadowing his visit here. There, his own key aides are demanding that he step down. From Jerusalem, NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.

ERIC WESTERVELT: Talansky said Olmert always insisted on cash, in one case asking Talansky to pay for a family vacation. Talansky said Olmert also insisted on first-class flights, fine cigars and luxury hotel suites.

REUVEN HAZAN: If he supposedly received cash in envelopes, this is way beyond getting too much money to cover your election campaign. This is man who borders on the criminal.

WESTERVELT: Israelis, Hazan notes, are generally willing to forgive financial indiscretions if they feel the country is secure and moving forward.

HAZAN: The problem with Olmert is he's not moving us ahead. He's not a leader. He might claim that he's on the verge of something, but he hasn't gone anywhere. We don't truly believe that there is progress with the Palestinians.

WESTERVELT: Foreign minister Tzipi Livni said the ruling Kadima Party needs to pick a new leader. Political analyst Reuven Hazan said the prime minister has only one choice to make.

HAZAN: Ehud Olmert has to decide if he wants to leave gracefully, or he's going to get kicked out.

WESTERVELT: Olmert's trip to the U.S. and a meeting Wednesday with President Bush will focus on the U.S.-initiated peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. The talks were going nowhere, even before Olmert's latest crisis, says political studies professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar-Ilan University. President Bush's announced goal of reaching a peace agreement by year's end, Steinberg says, looks increasingly doubtful.

GERALD STEINBERG: It was oversold, the hype, the constant visits of the secretary of state, the president himself. Those things are way overstretching what the traffic will bear.

WESTERVELT: In the ongoing corruption probe, the prime minister's lawyers will have a chance to cross-examine Talansky in July, but many here doubt that internal politics and public opinion will wait that long for Ehud Olmert to make his case. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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