May 7, 2009
By Natasha Mozgovaya
The world has no choice but to compare the threat posed by Iran to that of Nazi Germany, President Shimon Peres told U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, adding that Israel must support U.S. overtures to Iran.
“Iran is a threat not just to Israel, but to the whole world. As Jews, after being subjected to the Holocaust, we cannot close our eyes in light of the grave danger emerging from Iran,” Peres said.
“If Europe had dealt seriously with Hitler at that time, the terrible Holocaust and the loss of millions of people could have been avoided. We can’t help but make the comparison.”
Peres also said that Israel must support Obama’s efforts to engage Iran diplomatically over its contentious nuclear program. “We should be loyal supporters… If it will succeed, it can be the best thing.”
“I told [Obama] that a great change has begun, because today most of the Sunni world does not see the problem as Israel, but Iran,” the president told reporters.
Peres added that Israel is prepared to negotiate a peace settlement with Syria and the Palestinians, adding that the benefits of the process would outweigh the risks.
“[Israel] is ready for negotiations with the Palestinians, with the Syrians,” Peres told reporters after his talks with Obama at the White House. “I believe this is an opportunity that is not worth forfeiting.”
“I can’t say there won’t be difficulties, but it would be a serious mistake not to take advantage of the opportunity,” Peres said.
The meeting between Peres and Obama, which was scheduled for 20 minutes, stretched to 40. “At the end, the two of us spoke alone for 15 minutes.”
After their meeting, the White House released a statement saying: The President appreciated the opportunity to welcome President Peres, in recognition of the enduring friendship between the United States and Israel.”
“The two presidents exchanged views on the opportunities and challenges, including the pursuit of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and Iran’s nuclear program… [and] achieving our countries’ shared goal of peace and security for Israel and all of its neighbors. The President looks forward to his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu later this month.”
For the first part of the Obama-Peres meeting, National Security Adviser Jim Jones was also present, along with the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and the head of the Middle East desk of the National Security Council, Dan Shapiro.
Peres also said that the American president said Israel’s security was and would remain a top priority fort the United States.
Peres said Obama told him he believed they could work together in a pragmatic and positive way.
Peres said that since Netanyahu’s election, he did not hear the prime minister express himself against a two-state solution. “I believe Netanyahu is seeking a historic peace; I say this from conversations I have had with him.”
Peres also said he told Obama that Netanyahu would respect agreements signed by his predecessors.
When asked whether he thought the American administration was tending toward the Arab world at Israel’s expense, he said: “It’s not that they are for the Palestinians and we are against them,” Peres told Haaretz. “The prime minister has said specifically that he will respect the obligations of his predecessors, with everything that implies settlements, the road map and the continuation of the peace process. He has said he does not want to rule the Palestinians.”
Peres tells Clinton: Israel won’t give U.S. ultimatums
Peres told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier Tuesday that Israel did not oppose the Obama administration’s overtures to Iran.
“I said if you want diplomacy, I hope you succeed. Israel is not delivering ultimatums to America,” Peres told Haaretz following his talks with Clinton.
“Iran will not get atomic weapons, but we cannot look just at the clock. Whoever wants to set a timetable on Iran is working on the assumption that the situation is frozen. The situation is constantly changing and [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is dividing the Muslim world.”
With regard to Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s interview with the New York Times published on Tuesday, in which the group’s exiled official vowed to take part in the U.S.’ solution for Middle East peace, Peres said:
“I told the secretary of state that the Hamas problem now belongs to Egypt, Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas], Palestinians, basically the whole Sunni world. I told her that difference between Hamas and Fatah is not political, but fundamental.
“Fatah is a political movement and Hamas is religious. A political movement knows it needs to make compromises. A political movement has a deadline and a religious movement has eternity. A political movement knows that it can’t both fire and conduct negotiations, but a religious movement does not follow this logic.”
Peres told Haaretz that he would not “exaggerate and say” that his talks with Clinton were “outstanding,” but added: “I found no contradiction in stance between the secretary of state and [Israel].”
“When taking into count all of our strategic assets, the number one asset is Israel’s relations with the U.S.,” he said.
Peres, who arrived in Washington on Sunday, also met with U.S. Senator John Kerry and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during his visit.