- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2012

JERUSALEM — Israel urged the Russian president during his visit Monday to step up pressure on Iran to curb its suspect nuclear program, but there was no sign of any concessions from Vladimir Putin.

With Russia an influential voice in the international debate on Iran, the outcome of the 24-hour visit could have deep implications for whether Israel decides to strike Tehran’s nuclear facilities or give the international community more time to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff.

Israel and Russia enjoy deep economic and cultural relations bolstered by the more than 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union who now live in the Jewish state.

But they have deeply differing approaches to Iran’s nuclear program and the uprising in Syria, Tehran’s close ally.

Russia has blocked drastic action against the two countries, while Israel repeatedly has hinted it may act militarily to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

In a brief statement after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr. Putin said that their talks covered the situation in Iran and the bloody uprising in Syria, and that he saw negotiations as the only solution for such matters.

Mr. Netanyahu countered with far more detail.

“We agree that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran pose a grave danger, first for Israel but also for the region and the whole world,” he said. “Two things need to be done now: We need to bolster the sanctions and bolster the demands.”

Mr. Netanyahu insisted that all uranium enrichment in Iran must cease and its underground nuclear facility near Qom be dismantled. He added that “the killing and horrible suffering of the Syrian people” must be stopped.

Israel sees Iran as its most dangerous enemy because it is convinced the country’s nuclear program is meant to build bombs rather than peaceful purposes such as energy production, as Iran insists.

The fears are compounded by Tehran’s frequent calls for Israel’s destruction, support for anti-Israel militants and an arsenal of ballistic missiles.

Israel has said repeatedly that it would not tolerate a nuclear Iran, and while saying it prefers a diplomatic solution also has hinted of using a military strike as a last resort. Israel itself is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons.

Iran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions because of its nuclear program. Israel has welcomed these but warned they are not enough.

Efforts aimed at tougher U.N. sanctions have been opposed in the Security Council by Russia and China, both permanent veto-wielding members that have extensive financial interests in Iran.

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