February 23, 2009 - 1:00am

Israel's political rivals Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni, meeting yesterday for the first time since the inconclusive Feb. 10 election, agreed to hold further talks about a future government.

Netanyahu, head of the hawkish Likud party, was asked Friday by President Shimon Peres to form a new ruling coalition. He has vowed to press on with efforts to persuade centrist leader Livni, Israel's foreign minister, to join him in a government.

He called it "the challenge of the hour and the will of the Israeli people" for Israel's two largest political forces to rule jointly to confront what they see as Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and its militia allies, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Livni, head of the centrist Kadima party, said she and Netanyahu, "didn't reach any agreement, there are substantial differences," but added "it is important to investigate whether there is a common path."

She agreed at Netanyahu's urging to meet again, she told reporters at the Jerusalem hotel where they had met behind closed doors. Kadima won 28 seats to 27 for Likud in the election for Israel's parliament.

In choosing Netanyahu, Peres did not follow the tradition of asking the leader of the party with the most legislators to form a government within 42 days. He opted for Netanyahu because a majority of lawmakers pledged their support for him.


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