The international row over Iran's nuclear program can only be addressed diplomatically rather than through military means, President Shimon Peres said on Friday.
"I think the problem can be resolved not militarily but politically and economically," Peres was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency. The president was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting in the northern Italian town of Cernobbio, site of the Ambrosetti Forum, an annual gathering of global political and business leaders in an Italian lakeside resort.
In remarks carried by the Italian news agency ANSA and cited by AFP, he described a military option in dealing with Iran as "an error."
"So long as there is a possibility of acting politically and economically, it is much better," Peres said.
Peres appeared side by side with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Both leaders spoke before the crowd about the political, diplomatic and security situation that exist between Israel and the Palestinians and the Arab world in general, and said that Israel and the Palestinian Authority are closer than ever to a peace deal.
Abbas pledged to try to reach a final status peace agreement with Israel by the end of the year - but he admitted the goal, set by U.S. President George W. Bush, might not be achieved.
Abbas also rejected the notion that he and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert might put forth a partial document outlining the areas in which they do agree and leaving open other issues - most notably, and most sensitive, the sharing of Jerusalem as a joint capital.
"It is necessary for the agreement to address all ... issues," said Abbas. "It is all or nothing, really," he continued.
Abbas and Olmert - and their negotiating teams - have held periodic, secretive meetings since peace talks were reignited at Annapolis, Maryland, in November 2007.
Palestinian officials close to the talks have said some progress has been made on the issue of borders, but the issue of Jerusalem, especially the Old City with its Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites, appears to be as stuck as ever.
The sides also have been unable to come up with a formula addressing the plight of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Asked about a possible Likud victory in the next elections, Abbas sidestepped the issue.
"We might not be able to reach a final status agreement by the end of the year," he said. "We will make all possible efforts."
Abbas said if no agreement was reached while Bush remained in office, "the new administration should not wait seven years for us to start negotiations".
"It should begin immediately as soon as a new president is in the White House."
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has used his largely ceremonial role and his stature as an elder statesman to push peace efforts in the past, addressed the forum after the Palestinian President.
"We have to try to reach an agreement," Peres told the crowd. "We have to act on the supposition that it is possible."
Referring to Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah, Peres said that the next elections in the Palestinian Authority must be carried out as a truly democratic process. The Israeli president emphasized that the concept of democracy must be upheld, not only on the day the elections take place, but more importantly on the day after.
"It is illogical that an organization abuses the tools of democracy to install a military, terrorist, murderous and religious fanatic dictatorship," said Peres.
Peres said that Iran no longer represents its infamous history rather it is now a radical and fanatical regime that represents a threat to the Middle East and the entire world.
"I do not support military action against Iran but the world must become a united front and impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran," said Peres
Peres also urged progress with Syria, which is currently engaged in indirect talks with Israel via Turkish mediation. He called for Syrian president Bashar Assad to make a personal gesture similar to the dramatic 1977 Jerusalem visit by Anwar Sadat of Egypt, which led to a peace agreement in 1979.
"I think if President Assad will create a visit to Israel or alternatively invite the prime minister of Israel to go to Damascus we shall see a major change," he said. "I believe the best way is to start with a meeting and then have negotiations."
Abbas, whose people have sometimes fretted that prioritizing wider Mideast agreements might leave the Palestinians in the cold, said he would support Israeli progress with Syria or other Arab nations.
"Possible success for those negotiations could facilitate peace for us, too, said Abbas. "If the Arab League proposal were adopted," he said,"27 Islamic states would proceed with peace with Israel. Israel would be in an ocean of peace."
Click to view image: '222848-zzz_shimonabu.jpg'
|Liveleak on Facebook|